Dean returned to the motel at ten a.m. and nearly had a heart attack when he realized Sam wasn't in. He hauled his phone out of one pocket and eyed the made beds while dialing Sam's number. It went to voicemail at once. "Sam? Where the hell are you? Do you have any idea what time it is?" he snapped, then flipped the phone shut again.

For the next hour, he wore grooves in the floor and called Sam every ten minutes without getting a reply. An hour after that, he reached the point where he needed to do more than just pace around the motel room and wait for his brother to call or show up. He grabbed his jacket and had barely managed to slip it on when he heard the key in the door.

He strode over to the door and ripped it open, startling his brother. "Where the hell were you?" he snapped, seething with righteous anger.

Sam reeled back a step and squinted at him, quite obviously hung over. "Why are you back so early?" he countered.

"Early? It's frigging twelve, dude," Dean said, grabbed the front of Sam's t-shirt, hauled him into the room and slammed the door shut behind him.

Sam glanced at his watch, then suddenly smirked.

That reaction took Dean by surprise enough for him to calm down a little, now that it was established that Sam had neither been abducted, possessed or killed. And the fact that his brother was smirking like that and at the same time seemed lost in thought even though Dean had made it very clear to him that he had been worried ... "Dude ... did you even come back here last night?" he asked.

Sam made a face. "Nope," he said.

That changed things considerably. "You dog," Dean said and punched him on the shoulder, which provoked a fairly healthy-looking blush on his brother's cheeks. "That hot little number you were talking to when I left?" he asked.

Sam gave him a half-shrug in reply.

"You gonna see her again?" Dean asked.

Sam just stared at him for a moment. "Weren't we leaving today?" he countered.

A light shrug was all Dean offered in return for that. "Up to you. We can stay a day or two longer," he finally said.

"I need a shower," Sam said instead and shrugged out of his jacket.

Dean watched him go and the second the door to the bathroom had closed, he let out a sigh of relief. "I am gonna kick your ass if you ever do that again, you know," he called.

"Whatever," came the muffled reply from behind the door.


Half an hour later

Sam flopped down on his bed and pulled on a clean pair of sox, then looked up at Dean, who was sorting through the debris on his bed. "What are you looking for?"

"The box," Dean said. "I had it here a moment ago."

Sam frowned lightly, then focused on the elusive box that was sitting on the night stand in plain view. "Do you need glasses?" he asked.

Dean froze, then glanced back at him with a withering glare. "No, I do not," he countered, then glanced at the night stand and rolled his eyes. "Dammit," he muttered, grabbed the box and eyed it for a moment. "This damn thing is starting to give me nightmares," he added and threw it to Sam. "You take it for a while."

Sam caught it in midair and inspected it briefly, then looked up at his brother again. "I really would like to know what it contains. Apart from what Lucy claimed is in it," he said.

"Open it and find out," Dean said and grinned. "But I'm not bailing you out if it's a curse."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, you would," he said and smirked.

"The hell I would. If you open that thing, you asked for it," Dean countered. "Are you gonna see that girl again?" he asked, reverting back to their previous topic.

Sam briefly considered telling Dean to back off, but then shrugged lightly to himself. There was no sense in fighting Dean on this. He would keep asking until he got an answer. So, Sam considered it, considered staying for a day longer. He liked Katie, but ... "Nah, I think all has been said and done there," he finally said and wondered if it would ever come naturally to him like it did to Dean. Seeing Katie again now would be awkward.

Dean eyed him for a moment, then shrugged. "Probably true," he agreed. "Let's pack up and get the hell out of here. We'll call Bobby on the way. Maybe he's dug up something new for us to deal with."

"Or we could try and find something ourselves?" Sam tried and started packing the few things he needed to pack. He wasn't as messy as his brother, who left things everywhere.

"Let's try Bobby first," Dean countered and started throwing things into his duffle with no regard for clean and dirty.

Sam watched him for a second, then shook his head lightly. Dad had been a bit of a neat-freak and that made Sam wonder if their mother had been the messy one.


Bobby's Place
Fort Pierre, SD

The next couple of months passed in a blur. They hunted demons and most of the time, they killed them too. In-between they returned to Bobby's place to stock up or lick their wounds. And still there was no sign of Bela anywhere.

Dean was beginning to believe she had either been killed or given up, both of which were fine with him. If she was still alive ... well, she didn't have much time left. One more month and the day would arrive when she would have to die. A flicker of doubt rippled through him, briefly making him doubt that the transfer of the deal had actually happened, but with all that had happened with Sam during and after their visit to Whitefish, it was impossible to pretend that things weren't as screwed up as they could be.

He opened the fridge and eyed the contents for a moment, then glanced back at Bobby, who was cleaning some weapons at the kitchen table. "What the hell kind of selection is this?" he asked, waving toward the fridge.

Bobby glanced up at him for a moment, then his gaze flicked to the nearly empty fridge. "If you have a problem with that, you can go shopping," he countered and continued the cleaning-job.

Somewhere in the house, the phone rang. But only once. Sam had taken to picking up when it rang, which seemed to be okay with Bobby.

A moment later, Sam turned up in the doorway. "That was Steve," he said, his expression a bit taunt.

"What'd he want?" Bobby asked, attuned to Sam's tone of voice almost as much as Dean was.

"He says there's something going down in a small town up by the Canadian border. That there have been several sightings," Sam said.

"What the hell is it with those demons and small towns?" Dean growled and closed the fridge again. "What? They can't take a bite out of the big Apple? Or go somewhere fun like L.A.?"

"Did he say how many there might be?" Bobby asked, ignoring Dean's tirade.

"He said at least six, maybe as many as ten," Sam said and swallowed, then shifted his attention to Dean. "Maybe we should get some help on this one?"

"Nah, that's nothing we can't handle," Dean claimed with a grin.

"Stop being so damned cocky, Dean. It'll end up killing you if you're not careful," Bobby said, his tone tense. "Call Steve back, Sam. Tell him to round up a few others and meet you there in ... two days?"

Sam nodded and disappeared back into the livingroom to make the call.

When Bobby turned his attention toward Dean, he knew he was going to get an earful. "What the hell is the matter with you? You manage to slay six demons in a row out of pure chance and you think you're invincible?" he asked angrily. "Get your head out of the clouds, Dean. You're not made of awesome. You can still get hurt. And I don't even want to begin to imagine how Sam would cope without you. You got yourself a new lease on life. Don't flush it down the toilet."

In all honesty, Bobby's words had a pretty sobering effect on Dean. He grimaced. "I don't want Sam around other hunters, Bobby. For obvious reasons," he tried, well aware that his need to protect Sam didn't explain why he was so hyper when it came to hunting.

Bobby glared at him. "I always thought John was the one who threw himself into hunting with the bloodlust of a fox in a henhouse. But you enjoy this. John never did. He did it because he felt he had no other choice," he said.

"I do what has to be done, Bobby," he tried.

Bobby shook his head lightly. "You overdo what has to be done, Dean. I've seen you in action and, quite frankly, you scare the crap out of me when you get going."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Uh ... okay. Look, Bobby, no offence here, but I lost Sam once and I'm not gonna lose him again. If that means I take point and do most of the fighting, that's fine with me. I'm not going to jeopardize him again."

"You never did in the first place, Dean. You've always hung over him like a shadow, always ready to protect him. But he doesn't need that so much any more. Fight with him, not for him," Bobby said.

With a sigh, Dean admitted defeat. He couldn't win this discussion. Mainly because Bobby was right. "Yeah, I know. I'm just ... every damned time we get in a fight, I'm scared stiff that he'll get hurt. I can't ... lose him again."

"You won't if you let him do his thing. Sam's not a little kid any more. Just keep that damned branding in mind. He handled that a hell of a lot better than you did. Don't sell him short," Bobby countered, his tone a bit softer now.


North Dakota
Two days later

The Impala rolled into town at a measly twenty miles per hour while Dean stared out at Portal with a frown. "Holy crap. When you said this place was tiny, you weren't kidding, were you?" he asked without looking at Sam.

"Guess not," Sam agreed and unfolded the map he had found of Portal. "We were supposed to meet Steve on the corner of Union Street and Railway Avenue half an hour ago," he added with a quick glance at his watch.

"Yeah, well, it's not my fault that truck drivers are such sissies," Dean countered grumpily.

They had spent the better part of three hours trailing after a tanker truck that had set the pace at the same speed they were going at now. It had set them back those three hours and Dean had spent most of those three hours cursing every driver in the state because the traffic in the opposite direction had been incredibly dense and given him no chance of overtaking the truck. Apparently, he was still ticked off about that, Sam mused and arched an eyebrow. "Just keep going," he said.

There was little doubt in Sam's mind that the truck driver would have taken offence at Dean calling him a sissy, but there was even less doubt about that Dean would have wiped the floor with his ass if the chance had presented itself. By the three-hour-mark he had been so pissed off that Sam started fearing he'd have a heart attack if he didn't calm down.

They reached the corner of Union Street and Railway Avenue and Dean pulled the car over to the side of the road. Sam opened his door, then hesitated when Dean made no move to get out. "Something wrong?" he asked. He trusted his brother's instincts as much as his own.

"Nah, just trying to cool down a bit," Dean countered and peeled both hands off the steering wheel.

"Probably a good idea. You don't wanna start yelling at Steve if he says anything," Sam agreed and got out to stretch his legs.

It was at that moment that Sam noted the other car parked a little further down the road. The driver side door opened and Steve Masters climbed out, unfolding his powerful frame from a car Sam considered too small for the guy.

"Sam," Steve said and raised a hand the size of a dinner plate in greeting.

Sam nodded back at him. "Steve," he countered and couldn't help a vague smile. He had met Steve a couple of times before, the first time with dad, and dad hadn't liked Steve. Sam had never really been able to figure out why, but had at some point realized that his father had never felt comfortable about people that towered over him. And Steve towered. Even over Sam. "Sorry we're late. We got stuck in traffic," he said.

Steve waved a dismissive hand. "Not like it's going anywhere," he countered.

At that moment Dean had obviously decided that he had cooled down enough and got out too. "Masters," he said and eyed the other man.

"Winchester," Steve countered and smirked. With his six foot nine frame, he made Dean look like a midget. "Good of you to finally show up. What happened? You took a little joyride on the side?"

"Screw you, Steve," Dean growled. "So, what have you got for us?"

"For you? Well, I'd say I've got something for us. I called two other guys, but they're not going to show up," Steve said and scrubbed his fingers through his short, dark hair.

Sam noted that Steve was going grey and he wondered how old the guy actually was. "How come?" he asked before Dean could make any derisive comments.

"Got scared, I guess. A lot of hunters don't like going up against demons. Especially not when there are ten of them running around a town this size," Steve countered. "There's a motel back that way if you wanna grab yourselves a room. We can meet in the Outback Bar in an hour," he added. "There's a few things we need to go over before we take on the hoards of Hell."

"Sounds fine to me," Dean said and got back in the car.

Sam smiled a little helplessly, but Steve just rolled his eyes and waved it off. "He's just like your daddy. Intimidated by my size," he said and chuckled under his breath.

"That's probably it," Sam agreed and got back in the car as well.

Dean was glowering at him. "I am not intimidated by his size. Masters' an asshole and you know it."

"I don't get what you've got against him, Dean. The few times we've actually met up with the guy, he's been his weight worth in gold when it comes to a fight. You just don't like him because he picks on you," Sam countered.

"Whatever," Dean grumbled, turned the Impala around and headed back the way they'd come.


Outback Bar
Portal, ND

Dean just sat there with his hands wrapped around a bottle of beer while Sam and Steve discussed the demon infestation of this quaint little town and how they might be able to get rid of it. All the while Dean considered why the hell he didn't like Steve. Was Steve right? Was it because dad hadn't liked the guy?

"Maybe you could take an interest in what we're discussing here?" Steve suddenly asked and eyed him critically.

Dean made a face. "I'm listening. Just doesn't sound like you need my input here," he countered a little aggressively.

Steve sighed and leaned back on his chair. "That attitude isn't getting you anywhere, son," he tried.

"I'm not your son," Dean pressed out through clenched teeth and only kept his anger at bay because Sam looked uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Steve arched his brow, then sighed lightly. "Suit yourself," he countered.

"Look, Steve, no offense, but we can handle this on our own," Dean said and sat up a little straighter. "We took on six demons with no trouble at all."

"You almost got your head bashed in," Sam pointed out.

"Yeah, and you got your ass kicked by an old lady," Dean shot back. "What's your point?"

"You can't handle this on your own, Dean. Just because you got lucky and managed to get rid of six demons in one go, that doesn't mean you'll get that lucky again. And we're up against ten. And they're badass," Steve said. "From what I hear, they just plow their way through any obstacle. And they're very much in favor of body-hopping. It'll be harder than Hell to track them all down and send them back to Hell."

Dean made a face. "We're not going to send them back to Hell. We're going to eradicate them," he countered heatedly.

Steve's expression didn't bode well. The guy looked a little stunned first and then put on a look that Dean knew from Sam. "Our job as hunters is to get rid of the bad guys and save the innocents, Dean. Maybe you forgot that lesson? I'm sure you dad taught you better than that."

"Dad would have blown them all away too," Dean growled. "Our job is to get rid of them, period. This is a war and it's one I intend to win."

"You?" Steve asked, his tone slightly derisive now. "Bobby told me about your marks. But just because you can't be possessed doesn't make you invulnerable. Maybe you'd do better if you keep that in mind?"

"Maybe you should mind your own business," Dean shot back.

Sam laid a hand on his arm, stopping him from saying anything else. "Why don't you go outside and cool down a little?" he suggested.

Dean glared at him for a second. "Fine," he snapped, rose, grabbed his bottle and left the bar. Outside, he leaned against the rough brick of the building and glared ominously out over the street.


Sam watched his brother leave, then sighed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's up with him today. He's been testy all day," he said.

"Don't worry about it, Sam. I know Dean doesn't like me. I just don't know why," Steve countered and glanced back at the door. "Maybe the rumors are true," he added almost thoughtfully and scrubbed a hand over his mouth.

"What rumors?" Sam asked. In general he wasn't so sure he wanted to know. He had heard certain things and didn't agree with them or like their implications.

Steve eyed him for a moment, his blue eyes leaning towards purple in the dim lighting of the bar. "That Dean's the exact copy of your dad. That everything he does, everything he likes, is just like your dad," he said.

Sam refrained from getting upset or angry about this, even though he felt the urge. "Dad and Dean aren't alike, Steve. Dean does things in a completely different way than dad did. Dean's messy, loud, at times obnoxious and pretty affectionate with the women he meets. Dad was the exact opposite. He was a neat-freak, silent but deadly and I've never seen him pay attention to anyone other than us."

"Is that a fact?" Steve asked and he sounded a little taken aback by that information. "I always thought ..." he began, but trailed off. "Just goes to show that you shouldn't listen to rumors, eh?" he added and smirked.

"Why didn't dad like you?" Sam asked, really wanting to know. "And don't tell me it was because of your height," he added.

Steve shrugged. "Who knows, Sam. I think it had something to do with that one time when he came to me for help and I refused him," he said. "John didn't let go of grudges, in case you hadn't noticed. He was ... well, he was in it for the long haul, if you catch my drift."

Sam couldn't remember the incident. "What'd he need help for?" he asked, a little surprised by that revelation. He had always considered his father to be mostly self-sufficient.

"It's a long story, actually, and totally irrelevant now, but hey. If you wanna know, I'll tell you," Steve countered. "He had a lead on a demon and he wanted my help to hunt it down and kill it, said he couldn't do it alone. I had heard about his little mishap with Harvell, didn't know the guy by anything other than reputation, so I blew him off, told him to fight his own battles, I didn't deal with demons. He got pissed off and after talking it over with Bobby, I kinda got why. But hey ... I didn't know at the time and John didn't hand out second chances."

"You think it was ... 'the' demon?" Sam asked quietly and couldn't help wondering what his life would have been like if dad had managed to send Azazel back to Hell back then.

"Probably. John was tense enough to snap when he turned up on my doorstep," Steve agreed. "From what I hear, he dropped going up against the demon then and missed the opportunity. I think that's what pissed him off more than anything."

Sam nodded quietly. "Anyway ..." he said. "About this case. How do we do this?"

"Best way would be to pick them off one at a time. But I have a feeling that's not going to happen. They're tricky bastards and most of the time you have to keep in mind that they can read you easily. Some of them even read minds. I just don't think they know what they're looking at when they read people," Steve said. "That's our biggest advantage if that holds true. I don't think they understand human emotions. It's a fact that they don't know what the hell they're looking at. Most of them are cocky sons of bitches, which makes them easier to kill."

"Do you know where they're holed up?" Sam asked and glanced at the door. He was beginning to get a little nervous about Dean's absence. "Hold that thought. I just wanna check up on Dean," he added, rose and stepped outside.

Dean was standing there, back to the wall, while he was staring ahead of himself. He glanced at Sam when he stepped outside, but said nothing.

"You okay?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Dean countered, but his tone had that edge that Sam didn't like. He sounded pissed off, and in a big way.

"Look, Dean, Steve isn't so bad. And I really think we need the help. I personally do not want to go up against ten demons. I thought six was way over the top," Sam said and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

Dean's brow furrowed. "Fine, so we go with his plan," he growled.

"Maybe we should just forget about it," Sam countered and sighed deeply. "If you don't want to work with the guy, fine. But I'm not going up against ten demons at once. And I'm not letting you do that either."

"I said fine, didn't I?" Dean snapped and pushed away from the wall and took a few steps into the parking lot in front of the bar.

"Why the hell are you getting so worked up about Steve? I don't get it, Dean. I know dad didn't like him, but ..." Sam trailed off, uncertain of whether Dean knew the story behind Steve and John's falling out.

For a long moment Dean said nothing and kept his back to Sam. Then he turned back to face him and looked almost apologetic. "I don't know, okay? I have no frigging clue why that guy goes so much against my grain. And no, it has nothing to do with his height," he said and made a face. "Maybe ..." He trailed off with a shrug and stared into space for a second. "Maybe he's right. Maybe I just don't like him because dad didn't like him."

"We're here to do a job, right?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, of course we are," Dean countered and eyed him with slight confusion. "What's your point?"

"Don't you think getting help from a guy his size would be a good idea?" Sam asked. "I mean ..."

"Okay, fine. I'll ... keep a lid on it. We're here for the gig. If he wants to lend a hand, fine with me," Dean interrupted him and raised both hands in surrender. "I guess I just don't play well with others apart from you and dad," he added, stepped forward and grabbed the doorhandle. Then he stopped and gave Sam a brief look. "Time to kick some demon ass," he added, pulled the door open and stepped back inside.


Portal, ND
One month later

As it turned out, they didn't have to go up against ten demons at once and ended up picking them off in twos over the next month until there were only three left. Unfortunately, the three remaining demons were the toughest ones. They had withdrawn to the outskirts of town and had holed up in an old barn.

Dean, Sam and Steve were hiding behind the Impala, watching the barn intently. The fields around them were bare and there wasn't a tree in sight, so the only protection they had at present was the car. "I say we burn them out," Dean suggested. He was jittery, full of nervous energy, and Sam got the feeling that his brother was going to blow a fuse soon if he didn't get into hands-on combat. Seven demons had gone down quietly, without the need for any of them to get hurt, and six of the possessed people had been saved. Steve preferred it that way and, when it came down to it, so did Sam. But Dean – Dean wanted more, needed more, and Sam couldn't help wondering why he was so jittery about this whole thing.

"These guys won't stick around for that barn to burn," Steve said quietly. "I would actually prefer to let them come to us. They're badass, those three. They've been eluding us from the get-go."

"I get that Steve, but come on! We can't just sit out here on our asses and wait for them to get their act together. What about the innocent people they've possessed? If they're even alive anymore," Dean countered.

"What the hell is wrong with you today? Did you have too much coffee this morning?" Steve asked and eyed him with a light frown.

"No, I just don't dig this cloak-and-dagger routine," Dean countered. "This sneaking around. It's ..."

"... annoying?" Steve asked and arched an eyebrow. "You can't just bust in there and start shooting. First and foremost, you've got how many bullets left in that colt? Three? If you shoot these guys, you gotta make that count," Steve said. "We don't have time to run back to Bobby's to get more bullets. And, secondly, these guys most likely know you have the colt. And if they do, they can stop you. You know that."

Dean sneered. "Screw this," he snapped, got out from behind the car and strode toward the barn before either Sam or Steve could stop him. "HEY, DEMON DUDES! COME OUT AND PLAY!" he yelled.

Sam ground his teeth together, rose and started after Dean, but Steve grabbed him and hauled him back behind the car again. "Don't even think about it, Sam," he warned.

Sam gave him a dark look. "If he's going out there, so am I. There's no way I'm letting him face that alone," he said, pulled free of Steve's grip and stepped around the car. "Dean!" he called.

"Stay back, Sammy. I'll handle this," Dean countered without looking back at him.

The barn doors opened and two men and a woman stepped out. Dean spread his arms to the sides, his hands empty.

"Let's talk this over, guys," he said loudly. "I mean, what the hell does a bunch of nitwits like you get out of hanging around us stupid mortals, huh? It's not like we have anything to offer you."

"Nothing apart from your souls," the woman countered and sneered. "I've heard rumors you bought yours back. Must have been one hell of a price you paid."

Dean froze for a moment, but kept his arms spread out, his attention completely focused on those three. "You'd like to get your grubby little hands on my soul, huh?" he asked.

"I wouldn't mind," she said with a grin on her lips that was totally unbecoming.

Sam watched the scene unfolding with a bad feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach. There was something wrong here, something that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge.

"Yeah, well get in line, bitch," Dean bit back and dropped his arms.

His movements were honed to perfection and Sam saw what he was doing before the demons did. He managed to blow the woman away before the two guys picked up on the danger. But instead of going for the direct approach, their reaction was a bit baffling to Sam. Suddenly the soil of the surrounding fields rose and hurtled toward Dean with enough speed that it should have buried him alive.

Before Sam could react to this peculiar attack, Dean scrambled out of the dirt rain and nearly plowed into him. He was grinning like a goon, though. "Guess I got them a little riled up there, huh?" he asked. "Let's haul ass. I don't think they're in a very good mood right now."

Steve, Sam and Dean literally threw themselves into the Impala and Dean floored the gas pedal and raced them out of there. "You want them to come to us? You gotta catch their attention first," he said with a smirk. His mood seemed to have taken a one hundred and eighty degree turn, which confused Sam more than anything.

"Are you out of your damned mind, boy?" Steve huffed. "They could have torn you apart."

"We've been up against a few demons by now, Stevie my man," Dean countered and tore into town again before bringing the Impala to a skittering stop in the parking lot of the motel. "And these guys respond best to stimuli like this. And they don't like to tear people apart. That kills them too fast."

"You're nuts, Dean, you know that? I thought your father was insane, but this ..." Steve shook his head, but he couldn't help a small smile and Sam was under the distinct impression that Steve was a little awestruck right now.

Dean glanced at Sam. "What? No tirade? No 'Dean you're crazy'-speech?" he asked.

For reasons that were plain as day to Sam, he couldn't get a word out. He was too stunned, too rattled by what Dean had just done. All he did in reply was stare at Dean for a second, then shake his head and turn his attention to the parking lot for a moment before he got out of the car.

"I think you shell-shocked him," Steve offered with a light chuckle.

"And here I thought nothing I did could ever surprise my brother again," Dean countered with a smug smile. "We need a place out of the way to wait for those two. Any suggestions?" he added.

"There's an old warehouse at the other end of town. It's not in use. Could be ideal," Steve said and shook his head. "You really are nuts, you know that?"

"I just like action. So sue me," Dean countered nonchalantly. "See you back here in ... half an hour?"

"Make it fifteen minutes," Steve said. "You never know when they'll turn up."

"Got it. Let's go stock up," Dean agreed, then turned to face Sam. "What?" he asked.

"I've got nothing," Sam said. "I cannot even begin to understand what the hell you did back there. What are you trying to do, Dean? Get yourself killed?"

"I baited them, Sammy. And it worked like a charm. With a bit of luck, we can take them both out before dusk and then we've got a reason to party through the night," Dean said. "Ten demons, dude. Hell, we've already bested our record of six."

"We've sent six demons back to Hell, Dean. Only one of them is gone for good. So I don't really think that counts," Sam countered. He was both a little miffed and a little scared right now.

"Sure it does," Dean said with a snort. "You need anything from the room?"

"No, I don't," Sam said, unable to keep the edge out of his voice.

Dean eyed him for a moment, elation obvious in his behavior. "You don't get it, do you?" he asked.

"No, I don't," Sam admitted tersely.

"Didn't you hear what she said?" Dean asked, his eyes almost shiny with excitement. "The deal's off, Sam. I finally have the proof I needed. I'm out of it. And today's the day. Today is d-day," he added.

Sam stared at him. "What?" he asked.

Dean grinned broadly. "It's been a frigging year today, Sam. And I've just gotten confirmation that Lucy wasn't yanking my chain. I'm not gonna die today. I'm not going to Hell, dude."

Suddenly, Dean's behavior made more than sense. Especially his sudden shift in mood. No wonder he'd been worked up about everything lately. Sam hadn't been keeping track of the days and he realized Dean was right. Today was the day. If the deal was to come due, it would be now, tonight. Despite what the woman had said, though, Sam wasn't ready to celebrate yet. He would be when the clock passed midnight and Dean was still alive.

Dean turned and headed into the motel to grab whatever he needed while Sam remained by the car and just stared after him. And the second Dean was gone, Sam began to panic. He had forgotten all about that damned deal because Dean hadn't mentioned it over the past four or five months and it freaked him out big time that time had just run out and he still wasn't a hundred percent sure the deal was off.

"Sam? You okay?" Steve's voice broke through the haze in his mind and stopped the full-blown panic attack in its tracks.

But Sam still felt weak-kneed and grabbed onto the still open door of the Impala to steady himself.

"What's going on with you?" Steve asked, looking all concerned.

"It's nothing," he said. He wasn't sure if Steve knew about the deal and he didn't really feel like getting into it right now. "I guess I should have eaten a little more at breakfast," he added with a small smile.

"You guys. Dean eats like there's no tomorrow and you hardly touch anything," Steve countered with a shake of the head and threw his bag onto the backseat of the car.

"Yeah, well, one of us has to be abstinent," Sam countered, drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Really?" Steve chuckled, then glanced at his watch. "Speaking of which, where is that brother of yours?"

Sam frowned. "I'll go check," he said and headed toward the motel. Halfway to the room, a shudder ran through him and he instinctively reached for the colt, which Dean had dropped on the seat between them in the car. Feeling the distinct need to always have it close by, he had automatically picked it up and stuffed it into the waistband of his jeans then and was glad he had done so now.

He sensed danger long before he actually heard the sounds coming from their room. The door stood ajar and at first he didn't know what he was hearing. Carefully, he pushed the door wider and faced a scene that made him freeze for just a second. There was one of those guys from the barn and he had Dean squashed into the wall and was slowly suffocating his brother, while Dean was desperately trying to dislodge the guy's hands from his throat.

Sam raised the colt and aimed at the guy's head, but stopped. If he shot him in the head, chances were the bullet would go through him and hit Dean. So Sam lowered his aim and pulled the trigger.

The bullet slammed into the guy's back and he instantly released Dean, staggered a step back, then turned around, his expression frozen in surprise. He mouthed the word 'impossible' before he fell. He obviously hadn't heard Sam come in.

Gasping for breath, Dean struggled to stay on his feet. "Nice timing, bro," he rasped.

Sam just stood there and stared at the body for a moment, then looked up to meet Dean's eyes. "They can't possess us, Dean, but that doesn't mean they can't kill us," he said quietly. "You have to be more careful."

Dean draped a hand over his throat and nodded. "Guess you're right," he agreed.

"Stop being so cocky. At least until after twelve tonight," Sam said. "You have to realize that you're vulnerable, Dean. Please. Don't ..."

Dean raised a hand. The experience seemed to have sobered him up quite a lot. "I know. I get the point, Sam," he agreed and cleared his throat with a grimace. "We've got one bullet left. That's for that last bastard. Let's go set a trap for him and wipe him out," he added.

Sam nodded, then eyed Dean closely. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, just a little sore," Dean countered and flexed his jaw. "He carried one hell of a punch," he added and toed the body. "How the hell are we gonna get rid of this?"

Just then, Steve turned up in the doorway, glanced around the room, then fixed his gaze on the corpse. "The good old fashioned way," he said. "We wrap it up and carry it out of here. Important is only that we don't look like we're doing something we shouldn't. Nobody's gonna bother us if we do this right," he said.

Dean eyed him for a moment, then nodded. "Fine. Let's do that, then," he agreed.

It took them more time than they really had to spare, but eventually they managed to dump the body in the trunk of the Impala without anyone giving them a second glance. Not that there were that many people around to begin with. It would seem that the demon presence in town had made people reluctant to go outdoors.

"Like a ghost town," Dean said and slammed the trunk lid shut.

"Better than it being so busy that we couldn't have pulled it off," Steve countered.

"Yeah, I guess," Dean agreed, then glanced at Sam. "You're really developing some skills there, little brother," he added.

Sam made a face. "Not exactly skills I'm proud of," he said.

"You should be, though. This is really the last day I wanna die from some stupid mistake like that," Dean countered with a grin. "Let's go find that last one and kick his ass back to Hell. The sooner the better."

"I'm with you there," Steve said.

They got in the car and with instructions from Steve soon found the warehouse he had mentioned earlier. They set up quickly, preparing for all eventualities with salt, a devil's trap and, of course, the colt, and then they settled in to wait.

"So, one more to go. That can't be too hard," Dean said after a bit.

Steve was checking the perimeter while Sam spent time staring at the devil's trap while he wondered if it would really work this time. "You never know. This might be something like the Yellow-Eyed demon," he said, then glanced at his brother, who looked a little annoyed by his attitude. "They really don't believe in backing each other up, do they?"

Dean, who was leaning against the wall of what appeared to be a smaller storage space which sat in the center of the hall, fiddled with his shotgun a bit before he looked up to meet his eyes. "No, which in and off itself is good for us. If they all had each other's backs, we'd be dead by now," he said and smirked.

Sam glanced off in the direction Steve had disappeared in, then returned his attention to Dean. "About this being ... d-day," he said, not sure how else to phrase it right now. "Are you sure it's off?"

Dean met his eyes briefly, then glanced in the direction Steve had gone as well. "Oh yeah, I'm sure. Why? Aren't you?"

"I don't know, Dean. You keep telling me that demon's lie. What if she lied? What if she ..." He trailed off, unsure of how to handle this situation.

Dean made a face. "Look, Sam, no matter how you turn it, time's up. If Lucy lied – and I really have no reason to believe she did at this point – then there's nothing we can do about it. But if she didn't ... well, then I'm not the one biting the bullet tonight. And even though I have to admit that I'm not a hundred percent happy about condemning another person to death like this ... we're talking about Bela, Sam. She's a major bitch and she doesn't give a crap who she hurts. In my humble opinion, she's no better than the things we hunt."

Sam still didn't like it, but he figured Dean had a point. "Maybe we should try and not shoot this last one. I mean ... I get the feeling we're overstepping a line somewhere if we do that."

"Sammy, you worry too much. I keep telling you ... the more of these evil sons of bitches we can eradicate, the better the rest of the world is off. I know you've got a problem with the innocent being caught in the crossfire, dude, but come on, man. We can't save everybody," Dean countered.

Steve returned, cutting short anything else Dean might have wanted to say. "Perimeter holds," he said and glanced around the immediate area of the large storage hall they were in.

Sam sighed lightly and glanced at his watch. It was half past seven and he felt his stomach cramp up at the mere notion that Dean might be gone in less than five hours. It was hard for him to focus on the positive side of things with this crap hanging over their heads. Dean made a good point, of course, but Sam couldn't let go that easily.

A sound somewhere at the other end brought all three of them to attention at once. Sam pulled the colt, Dean raised his shotgun and Steve brought out his own guns. They withdrew into the shadows, which were lengthening along with the setting sun, and waited with baited breath.

"You think you're so smart," a voice drifted out of the shadows at the other end.

Sam squinted, trying to make out the last demon, but couldn't see him yet. And with the echo in the high-ceilinged storage hall, it was hard to tell where the voice came from.

"You think you've got a chance against me?"

"Show yourself and we'll prove it," Dean said.

"Dean Winchester," the demon sneered, his tone derisive. "You may have escaped the clutches of Hell for now, boy, but you won't forever. We will get you."

"I'm right here. All you gotta do is come get me," Dean countered and stepped forward into the waning light.

Sam felt his skin crawl at the mere thought that this could be it, this could be the moment he lost his brother, so he stepped forward too, shoulder to shoulder with Dean.

"The boy who would be king," the demon leered and finally appeared at the other end of the storage hall. "Azazel would have been so disappointed in you."

"Like I care," Sam shot back.

The guy smirked, his eyes pitch black. "I guess this gets to be the day I take out what remains of the Winchesters. First your daddy, and now you both in one go. It's a good day," he said.

"You know what you're problem is?" Dean countered.

"I'm sure you're going to tell me," the demon said and fixed his attention on Dean.

"You're too cocky," Dean told him. At that very second, Steve opened fire on the demon in an attempt to distract him. But the demon was sneakier than they would have given him credit for and he went for the one that could potentially kill him with a wave of his hand.

Sam basically felt like he was hit in the chest by a battering ram, which sent him flying backwards and collide painfully hard with the wall of the smaller storage space. Dean opened fire on the demon as well if the bark of his shotgun was anything to go by and Sam took a second to compose himself, before he struggled back to his feet.

The whole building started to groan and Sam sent a quick glance up at the ceiling above them, which was composed of sheet metal and glass and realized that this demon was definitely one of the stronger ones. There was no doubt in his mind that the demon was influencing the building right now.

It was at that very second that he realized that Dean was standing right under a massive window in the ceiling and if that thing came down on top of him, he would die. "DEAN!" he yelled. "Ten paces to your right."

Without looking back at him, Dean responded just in time and managed to get out of the way before the massive window gave in and came hurtling down to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand pieces. "Son of a bitch," Dean barked.

The demon chuckled, obviously having fun, and Sam wondered how much stock it put in him actually being around, because it seemed to be aiming its efforts at Dean and Steve. Sam took off to the side of the hall and edged along the wall, deep in shadow. The daylight was almost gone, but there was still enough light to see by and Sam could see the demon. He waved a hand and Dean went flying, but was then distracted by Steve opening fire on him again.

Within range, Sam stopped and raised the colt, aiming it at the demon. He would have preferred it if they could have exorcized the guy, but right now he saw no other option. If he didn't shoot, the demon would eventually kill all three of them. Neither rocksalt nor silver rounds put a dent in his approach and that left only one option open.

"HEY!" he yelled.

As expected, the demon turned, exposing his chest to Sam, and Sam pulled the trigger at the same instance. And there was no mistaking the surprised look on the guy's face when the bullet slammed into his chest. He stood for a second, looking like this was really the last thing he had expected, then the demon essence inside him sparked a few times and he keeled over.