Dean rose, glanced briefly down at Sam, then sighed deeply and turned back to face Bobby, who nodded toward the hallway and stepped outside.

Dean followed him and pulled the door shut behind him. "Well, whatever this is, it's helping already."

"Mild camomile," Bobby countered.

"Huh?" Dean frowned lightly.

"It's tea, Dean. That's all it is. He needs something to drink and I think he keeps throwing up because he doesn't ingest anything," Bobby said. "Looks like he's doing better, though, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, sure does," Dean agreed and glanced back at the door. "It would seem as if that concoction worked. Guess I won't have to call Lucy and give her a piece of my mind after all."

Bobby eyed him for a moment, then nodded vaguely. "Not that I think that's a good idea in the first place, what with her being ... the devil and all."

He didn't look happy about the concept and Dean didn't really blame him. The more he thought about it, the more surreal the idea became. It was hard to handle the fact that he had, in essence, made a deal with the devil. On the other hand, he didn't really have anything on the line now. Sam was going to be okay and Dean was beginning to nurture the faint hope that this transferal of the deal had happened. On the basis of that growing hope, he smiled vaguely.

"What?" Bobby asked.

Dean shook his head lightly. "Nothing. I'm just really starting to feel good about this whole mess," he said and smirked likely.

"You make a deal with the devil and think it's okay?" Bobby asked. "Dammit, Dean. When are you gonna learn that you have to choose sides in this war?"

"Oh, I have chosen sides, Bobby. But I'm not above accepting a helping hand when someone reaches it to me. Not where Sam is concerned. And for some reason, Lucy St. Clair seems to like me. Wouldn't it be stupid if I refused her help?"

"I'm more worried about the price, Dean," Bobby said.

"The price is that we stay mum about her. We tell nobody and everything will be okay. Just ... forget what you know about her and keep it under wraps. That's all we have to do," Dean tried.

"And what if one of you gets possessed, Dean?" Bobby asked quietly. "The first thing a demon does when it takes over someone is learn everything about that person. You can't hide anything from an invading demon."

"Then we'll just have to make sure neither of us get possessed," Dean countered. A thought popped into his head at that moment. "Sam said he'd found a symbol or something that wards off possession."

"You mean the branding?" Bobby asked and made a face.

"Yeah, that," Dean agreed and made a face in return. "Granted, I'm not too keen on someone sticking me with a cattle iron, but if it works?"

Bobby eyed him closely for a moment. "It works," he finally said. "But it hurts like hell and it burns for days after."

"I bet it does, but ..." Dean started, then trailed off as realization hit home. "You ..."

With a nod, Bobby pulled the collar of his t-shirt down, exposing a burn-scar on his left shoulder in the shape of the symbol Sam had shown Dean. "I used to be married once, Dean. My wife got possessed and I had no idea what the hell was going on. She tried to kill me. Afterward, I learned all I could about possession and the first thing I did when I knew enough to trust it, was to get that mark. I've never been possessed and I've been in plenty of situations where I should have been. So I'd say it works."

Dean stared at the scar until Bobby released the collar of his t-shirt again and covered it up. "And you never considered telling us about that?" he asked. He was a little stunned at realizing that Bobby had once been married and made a mental note of asking more about that when the time was right. He figured it hadn't ended well, judging by what little Bobby had said, and knew he would have to proceed cautiously into that topic.

Bobby sighed. "It should be a last resort, Dean. It's not something I will recommend others to do. Sure, it works, but the risk of it going wrong, of doing more damage than good, is very present."

"How could it do any damage?" Dean asked, associating the comment with the effect the mark would have.

"Tissue damage, muscle damage," Bobby said and Dean grimaced. "It can easily go wrong. What's the use of being immune to demon infestation when you can't fight because you've ruined your arm?"

"True," Dean agreed. "But still. I think it's worth considering."

"Let's talk about that when Sam is up and about again," Bobby suggested. "Make sure he drinks more of that if he can keep it down," he added and nodded at the mug Dean was still holding.

"Right," Dean agreed and returned to the room to watch over his brother.


The following morning

Sam woke up with a feeling that his entire body was on standby. It took him a long moment to gather himself enough to even twitch a finger and when he did, all he felt was fatigue and outrageous hunger. A little apprehensive, he carefully pushed himself up on his elbows and realized that even though he was still lightheaded, he wasn't even the slightest bit nauseous. He glanced over at the other bed and figured it had to be pretty early. Dean was still asleep, lying on his stomach with his face half buried in the pillow.

Slowly, Sam sat up. The fatigue was a killer, but he desperately needed to get up, to get moving. He hurt all over from lying down for so long and his stomach rumbled painfully. Deciding that he needed to take it slow but definitely needed to find something to eat, he pushed the covers aside, got shakily to his feet and made his way out of the room without waking Dean.

The stairs going down seemed much longer than normal, but he braved them anyway and eventually made it downstairs without falling flat on his face. Keeping in mind a lesson he had learned from Jess, he made his way into the kitchen and searched around for some bread, which he found almost immediately. He remembered the incident clearly and it was a bittersweet thing to revisit that memory...

..."How are you feeling?" Jess' cool hand slipped onto his brow.

"Like an idiot," he confessed and managed a halfhearted smile.

"Because you got sick? Give me a break, Sam. Everybody gets sick sometimes. You're not Superman, after all," she chastised and smiled to take any edge of her words.

"I threw up in your lap," he said without looking up at her. It was the single most embarrassing moment in his life if he disregarded his first encounter with the fairer sex and Dean's impromptu interruption.

Jess, however, smirked. "Not the most endearing thing you've ever done I'll admit," she said and brushed her fingers gently through his hair, pushing it away from his brow. "But food poisoning is no joking matter. And, besides, that skirt was old."

He made a face, wanting to smile but not really daring to just yet. The most devastating thing that could happen to him at this point in his life was that Jess stopped looking at him the way she did now. "Still, I'm sorry," he said and sighed. "Aw man," he added and rolled over on his side. Lying on his back for some reason put pressure on his highly sensitive stomach.

"Don't apologize for things you have no control over, Sam," she said and leaned down to press a gentle kiss on his jaw. "I'll make you some toast. We'll see how that goes," she added, kissed him again and got up and left the room.

Sam just lay there and tried to imagine living like this for the rest of his life and it wasn't half bad. Having her around enriched his days and certainly his nights too. She was always there, ready to comfort, to joke, to hold him when he really needed it and to be held by him when she really needed it. A part of him wondered if dad had been that way with mom as well and he found it hard to imagine his drill sergeant of a father showing any affection toward anyone. The thought of dad had the usual effect on him and his mood plummeted to new depths. It was a year now and he was still angry and hurt. Dad's harsh parting words still rang in his ears, still burned in his mind. And Dean? He missed his brother, missed the closeness they'd had, but he didn't miss the merciless teasing and the occasional bossiness his brother had thrown his way.

Jess returned with a tray, which she set down on the floor before sitting down next to him. "What?" she asked. She had obviously picked up on his mood.

"Nothing," he said and glanced down at the single slice of toast on the plate. "That's all I'm getting?" he asked and glanced up at her.

She chuckled. "If you can keep that down, then you get more," she promised. "But you shouldn't rush it. And stay away from the clams next time, okay?"

"Yes ma'am," he replied with a smile...

... which translated to the present. Yes, the memory was bittersweet, but he had the memory of an easier time, of a time of miracles and wonders. It was a time that 'ordinary' people would think of as boring and plain, but to him that had been a little slice of Heaven. It had been a respite from a life he had hated because he had felt that it had held him back.

The bread popped out of the toaster and he shuffled over to it to get the toast, which he took back to the table with him where he sank down on the chair again. He felt weak-kneed and slightly dizzy, but he also knew he needed to get back into the swing of things. Dean's time wasn't getting any longer and he needed to get back into researching how to break that damned deal.

A brief glance up at the ceiling made him sigh. "No way am I losing you too," he muttered, broke a piece of the toast and chewed it slowly. He realized that a comment like that could easily be misunderstood in the context of the memory of Jess, but since he was alone with his thoughts right now, he didn't feel the need to justify himself. He loved his brother, always had, and even though Dean would probably punch him for even saying the words, he figured Dean felt the same way too. "Jerk," he whispered, but couldn't help a vague smile from slipping over his lips.

It didn't take long before he heard the first sounds from upstairs. A thump, followed by rapid footsteps. "Sam?" he heard Dean calling.

"Downstairs," he called.

A moment later, his brother turned up in the doorway, looking a little befuddled and lot tired. He fought a yawn and lost the battled, then grimaced. "Why the hell is this house so cold in the morning?" he growled, patted across the kitchen floor and dropped down across from Sam. "Why are you up already?"

"I was hungry. Must be a good sign," Sam countered and held up the by now half-eaten slice of toast.

Dean focused on it for a moment. "Yeah," he agreed, squinted a little, then scrubbed both hands over his face. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Sam said. "Much better, actually."

"Good to hear. Just take it slow with the eating for a bit, okay? I don't think it would be such a good idea for you to have a setback right now," Dean countered and eyed him.

"I think it's over, whatever it was," Sam said and made a face. "I feel ... more clearheaded than I have in a while, actually," he added and frowned at his own words. "It's weird."

"What is?" Dean asked.

Sam became increasingly aware of that Dean kept staring at him, which was a bit disconcerting on the best of days. "Uhm ... that I haven't been feeling very clear," he said and wondered if he should tell Dean to cut it out. "I generally feel like I've been wearing blinds for a while, like I haven't seen the world too clearly."

"But you do now?" Dean asked.

"Yeah, I think so. I'm a bit dizzy, but I guess that's because I haven't eaten in ... however long this has lasted," Sam countered. "Why are you staring at me like that?" he finally asked.

Dean blinked, then looked away, his gaze skipping all over the kitchen. Then he got up and started the coffee machine, popped two pieces of bread in the toaster and dropped back down on the chair. "I'm not staring at you," he then claimed.

"You've been staring at me ever since you came in," Sam disagreed.

"Have not," Dean countered.

Sam arched an eyebrow, trying to let Dean know without words that he was in no mood to engage in this childish form of banter right now. "I think I'll stick to tea for now," Sam muttered after a moment and began to get up.

"Stay. I'll get it for you," Dean said and rose to put the kettle on.

Sam watched him, a little disconcerted by this sudden attention his brother was showing him. Dean almost acted as if he felt guilty about something. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, just tired like hell. You should learn to sleep longer, you know. It's getting to be a bad habit with you, this getting up before dawn," Dean commented, found a mug and dropped a tea bag in it before turning back to face Sam while he waited for the water to boil.

"When's the last time I got up before dawn?" Sam asked, a little confused. "I can sleep in if I want to."

"Yeah? Prove it," Dean countered with a smirk.

"Not now. I'm hungry," Sam said and grimaced.

"You ready for more?" Dean asked, grabbed the kettle and poured the water into the mug before handing it to Sam.

Giving it some thought, Sam finally nodded. "Yeah, I am," he agreed. "But only toast. Nothing else."

"Probably a good idea," Dean agreed, took the two slices of bread already done and dumped them on Sam's plate.

Sam eyed him for a moment longer, then glanced down at the toast, then at the mug. Before he could think of saying anything, Dean dropped a spoon into the mug before returning to the kitchen counter to grab the coffee pot and another mug. "You're all domestic," Sam said. "What's wrong?"

Dean settled down and poured himself a cup of coffee, then looked up to meet Sam's gaze. "Nothing," he said and that was obviously a lie.

"Okay, who are you and what have you done with my brother?" Sam asked. In part it was a joke, but it also worried him a little that Dean was so overtly attentive right now.

Dean grimaced. "I feel I owe you a little attention, dude," he said and wrapped both hands around his mug. "After all ... that stuff I gave you is what made you sick."

"The ... brew?" Sam asked, a frown furrowing his brow. "What was in it?" he asked.

Dean avoided looking at him and seemed to have found something interesting in his coffee that he was staring at. "Mandrake root," he said.

He might as well have said rat poison for all Sam cared. "What?" he asked. "You fed me mandrake root? Are you nuts?"

Dean drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, then looked up to meet his eyes again and the look he gave Sam indicated that there was more. "Lucy gave me the recipe. I figured she had done this to you, so only she could undo it," he said.

"Dean, for your information Mandrake root is poisonous. You could have killed me," Sam countered, wondering if Dean had suddenly forgotten everything he had learned.

"I know that," Dean growled. "Bobby calls it black magic. You were totally zoning out on me, Sam. You didn't seem to give a damn about anything."

"Dean, do you have any idea who she is?" Sam asked and leaned forward a little. He still felt fairly lightheaded, but his stomach was peaceful now that he'd eaten a little and he could focus on the important issues in life. "I mean Lucy. Do you know who she really is?"

Dean's expression tensed a little. "Yeah, I know," he said quietly and slumped back on his chair. "At least I know who she thinks she is," he added. "That doesn't mean squat. We've met demons with delusions of grandeur before, Sam. I haven't seen anything from her that any other demon couldn't do."

"Dean, the initials on the box. LL ..." Sam started, but Dean cut him off.

"It doesn't mean squat. For all we know, Lex Luthor could have had that box custom made and dad kept it as a gimmick, to throw potential looters like Bela off track," he said, his tone defensive.

"Lex Luthor?" Sam asked. "You do know that he's a fictional character, don't you?" he asked.

Dean rolled his eyes and got up to grab the next two slices of toast. "Look, dude, Lucy told me that the only way that Bela can get this box away from us is by killing both of us. So, yeah, there's something weird about it. She even told me what's in it, not that it makes it any clearer what the box really is."

"What's in it?" Sam asked.

"Hair, fingernail clippings, a few drops of blood and ... according to Lucy ... a few words. Which is why I still think it's a curse-box," Dean said.

Sam stared at him. "Those are all ingredients of a spell, Dean," he said.

"I don't care, okay? What I care about is that Bela is after the damned thing and she's ready to kill to get it. Hell, she nearly killed you. And ..." Dean trailed off and focused on the doorway.

Sam glanced over his shoulder and found Bobby standing there. "You might as well tell him," Bobby said, fixing Dean with a look that Sam couldn't really identify.

"I don't think that's a such a good idea," Dean countered grumpily.

"Tell me what?" Sam asked, glanced at Dean, then back at Bobby.

Bobby met his eyes. "How are you feeling? Better, I take it?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "Tell me what, Dean?" he pressed and returned his attention to his brother.

Dean made a face. "Lucy offered me a way out of the deal, Sam," he finally said.

If he hadn't felt so damned dizzy still, Sam knew he would have reared up from the chair, but as it were, he remained seated and just stared at his brother. "What?" he nearly whispered. "But ... that's great."

Dean looked a little taken aback by his response. "Yeah, well ... I guess it is. It's just ..."

"What? You're not happy about this?" Sam asked, stunned now. "Dean ... you took her up on the offer, didn't you?"

"You were just telling me ..." Dean started, but then stopped. "Yes, I did," he added.

It took a moment to really sink in and with that came the thought of any possible consequences, which could be why Dean was so reluctant to talk about it. "I suppose there was a ... price?" Sam asked. He felt a little breathless, felt his heart hammering away in his chest like he'd just run a marathon, and was aware that it was equal parts excitement and fear.

Dean dropped back down on his chair. "Yeah, isn't there always?"

It was hard to imagine anything worse than Dean selling his soul, but right now it seemed like he had found something worse, which could account for his behavior. "So?" Sam asked. He wasn't yet ready to jump to any conclusions.

"She transferred the deal to someone else," Dean said. "Someone else is taking my place in Hell." The corners of his lips twitched in a vain attempt to smile, but it never got anywhere near resembling that.

Sam eyed him closely. "Who?" he asked quietly.

"Bela," Dean countered. "Apparently, she made a deal some years back, which is why she's so frigging lucky all the time. Except when it comes to our box." He finally met Sam's gaze across the table. "She sacrificed her ten year old sister to get an edge. According to Lucy, she carved the kid's heart right out of her body and handed it to the demon."

Sam felt torn between disgust and regret. "Are you serious?" he asked and Dean nodded.

"Don't you go feeling sorry for her now. Whatever evil comes her way, she deserves it. Neither of you do," Bobby inserted, grabbed a mug and poured himself some coffee. He took one sip of it and grimaced. "Dammit, Dean. Who the hell taught you to brew coffee?"

Dean glanced up at him. "Too weak?" he asked.

"No, too strong. Even your daddy was better at making coffee others could drink than you are," Bobby countered and emptied the mug into the sink.

Dean glanced at Sam and arched an eyebrow, then shrugged.

"Why do you think I never drink coffee when Dean makes it?" Sam asked and smirked halfheartedly at Dean, who in turn rolled his eyes. "I'm not feeling sorry for Bela, by the way. She's nuts," he added.

"That she is. I just have the feeling that she's going to be a hell of a lot more nuts after what happened," Bobby said, put on a new pot of coffee and gave Dean a menacing glare.

"Not if her buyer caught up to her. Which is kinda something Lucy said he would," Dean said and made a face. He wasn't entirely happy with the situation.

"Yeah, well, you know you're dealing with some sort of demon, Dean," Bobby said. "And demons lie. That's a fact."

Dean shifted around on his chair to face Bobby. "What are you saying?" he asked.

"I got a call from a friend last night. He saw Bela. So I'm assuming Lucy exaggerated how eager Bela's buyer is to end her," Bobby said.

Dean paled. "Shit," he muttered. "That is not good news."

"Well, I'm sure you boys can handle her if she turns up," Bobby said, then eyed Sam for a moment. "You look about ready to drop. I think it's a bit early for you to be up. Go back to bed," he added.

Sam considered opposing that for a moment, but figured Bobby had a point. So he grabbed his mug of tea and headed back upstairs to sleep for a few more hours if he could. And if he couldn't, at least it would give him time to think things through.


Sam woke up with a start and sat bolt upright. For a few seconds he had no idea where he was. Then everything fell into place and he let out a slow breath, trying to calm his raging heartbeat. "Shit," he muttered. He still felt pretty much drained, pretty feeble actually. With an effort, he pushed the sheets away and got up and briefly had to brace himself against the wall when his equilibrium was upset by the sudden movement.

He breathed deeply a few times, steadying his swaying vision until the dizziness passed and the ringing in his ears subsided. Then he grabbed his shirt and shrugged into it before leaving the room to head downstairs. Halfway down the steps, he stopped short at the sound of raised voices.

"I'm not even going there right now, okay? It's not like I had a frigging choice. You think I wanna leave?" Dean sounded angry, but there was an undercurrent in his voice that made Sam flinch.

"All I'm saying is that you damn yourself by damning others, Dean. Don't you get that? I don't doubt that Bela had it coming. That's not the issue here. The issue is that you've agreed to this. Willingly. She's going to Hell, for pity's sake," Bobby countered. He was obviously trying to reason with Dean in his own way.

Dean was silent for a moment. Floorboards creaked concurrently with the sound of footsteps, telling Sam that Dean was pacing. He always paced when he was upset. "What the hell do you want me to do? I can't leave Sam. I don't want to leave Sam. I don't wanna die, Bobby."

Sam grabbed the banister with one hand, tightening his grip on the polished wood. He rarely got to experience his brother this emotional and Dean sounded scared.

"And I don't want you to. But you keep making this worse all the time, Dean," Bobby countered.

"How can it possibly get any worse?" Dean snapped, shifting from fear to anger. "You think I like doing this? But she nearly killed Sam. And who's to say she won't succeed next time?" he added, his voice rising in intensity.

"Don't yell at me, boy," Bobby warned.

"Sorry," Dean countered more calmly.

"Just think about it. An act like this ... it has consequences, Dean. You may not be going to Hell in six months time, but if you keep this up, you'll end up down there anyway," Bobby said.

"Like I would ever repeat this ..." Dean started, then trailed off. "Who the hell am I kidding? I'd do exactly the same thing tomorrow if Sam's life was on the line. No way am I gonna let anyone hurt my little brother."

"Dean ..." Bobby tried, then paused. "Your dedication to your brother is amazing. But ... you have to look out for yourself as well. You can't keep doing this."

"Anything for Sam, Bobby. Anything," Dean countered and he suddenly sounded very tired.

Sam swallowed and eased down on the step he had reached. Although he felt overwhelming gratitude at his brother's unwavering dedication to him, he was scared stiff of the lengths Dean would go to protect him.

"You know, I always thought that you were the one most like your dad," Bobby said after a moment. "But I don't think so any more," he added.

"Yeah, well dad was wrong about Sam, wasn't he?" Dean countered. "And quite honestly ... I would rather go to Hell than prove him right in this one."

"Be careful what you wish for, Dean," Bobby said.

"Yeah, I know," Dean muttered, his voice now barely audible.

Sam figured that anything he'd wanted to say to Dean about this new deal he had made had already been said. Dean needed a little support in his decision now. Determined to not make Dean regret the choices he had made, Sam pulled himself to his feet again and continued down the stairs.

Bobby looked up when Sam stepped into the room and eyed him, seemingly aware that Sam had overheard some of their conversation. Dean was standing by one window, staring out into the backyard. Sam gave Bobby a brief nod of acknowledgment and Bobby left the room.

"How are you feeling?" Dean turned around to eye him closely for a moment.

"Much better," Sam said. His emotions were surging right now and he needed desperately to show his brother how much he cared, but Dean hated sappiness with a vengeance. Sam hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure of what he should do, then shrugged to himself, strode over to his brother and enveloped him in a hug.

Dean tensed for a second and Sam expected sarcasm or even anger, but for a moment all Dean did was stand there. Then he hugged him back.

When Sam finally released him and took a step back, Dean eyed him quietly. "What was that for?" he asked without a hint of annoyance or sarcasm.

Sam shrugged. "Nothing," he muttered and dropped his gaze to the floor. "I'm just glad you're not going anywhere," he added with a vague smile.

Dean smirked. "Yeah, me too," he agreed. "Me too."