When Grace got up the following morning, the one thing she noted was the fact that Dean was still asleep on the couch, out cold, and Sam was gone. As always, his bed was made, everything neat and tidy. She frowned lightly, and stepped outside the front door to take a look around. She couldn't see him anywhere, which made her assume that he had gone for a walk, maybe to clear his head. Considering that Dean was still on the couch, she severely doubted that the brothers had spoken since yesterday and it worried her a little. Of course, Dean would probably be in no condition to speak about anything important until later in the day, if today at all. If he was like his father had been, then Grace had no real hope of getting anything coherent out of him today.

"Serves you right for getting him drunk," she muttered to herself, shook her head and went back inside.

She went about her business while Dean slept and Sam was out for his walk and she briefly checked the boys room for laundry, then came to a stop when she spotted Sam's phone on the night stand. In her experience, kids today never left without their gadgets. She shrugged lightly, but kept eying the phone and wondered if their friend Bobby could verify what they had told her. It wasn't so much that she believed they were lying or delusional, but it was still hard for her to believe. His number had to be in Sam's phone. "Okay, first rule of the day. Don't mess with their stuff," she grumbled under her breath, turned, but then stopped. Technically, she wouldn't be messing with it. She could just look up the last calls he had received. She was good with gadgets.

With a sigh, she grabbed the phone, quickly found the incoming calls list and found Bobby's number. She wrote it down, then put the phone where she had taken it and left the room, then went about her business until noon, where Dean finally stirred.

She heard him groan and grimaced before heading into the living room. "Good morning," she said quietly.

He squinted up at her for a moment, then sent a brief look around the room. "Aw man," he muttered and carefully pushed himself up.

"Can I get you anything?" she asked. "Coffee? Tylenol? A bucket?"

He just sat there for a moment and looked like he'd been hit by a house, then squinted up at her again. "All of the above?" he asked.

"What's more urgent?"

"Coffee. And Tylenol," he said, his voice a little hoarse. "What sob-stories did I tell you yesterday?"

"I wouldn't exactly call them sob-stories, Dean, and in essence you didn't tell me anything I didn't know already," she said and disappeared into the kitchen to get him a mug of coffee, black, no sugar, then made a beeline to the bathroom to get him the pills and grabbed a bucket on the way too. "Just in case," she said and set it down on the floor.

"Yeah, I doubt I'd make it to the bathroom with that damned cast," he agreed with a pale grin. He didn't look nauseous though. "Where's Sam?"

"Out for a walk," Grace said.

He glanced up at her, then closed his eyes and sank back into the upholstery of the couch with both hands wrapped around the coffee mug. "He's pissed," he said after a moment.

Grace figured he wanted to talk without wanting to admit it, so she settled down in the armchair across from him to let him get on with it at his own pace. "Why do you think that?"

"Because I know Sam. He's giving me the cold shoulder right now. I ... kinda flipped out at him yesterday ... because he told you all that stuff. And ... well ... he's not gonna talk to me today," Dean said without looking at her. He sounded annoyed, but there was an undercurrent of fear in his voice. He didn't like this, not one bit.

"Sam seems the forgiving sort," she tried.

"Oh yeah, unless he feels stepped on. Then watch out, world," Dean said, his tone dripping with sarcasm. And still there was that undercurrent in his voice.

"You need someone to run interference? I'm good at that," Grace suggested and smiled wryly when he glanced at her.

"You shouldn't get in the middle of this, Grace. It could get ugly," he said.

She snorted out a laugh. "I used to deal with your father all the time, honey. Remember?"

He looked a little puzzled by that, then shrugged lightly. "That's true," he agreed, then sent a look over one shoulder toward the hall. "Are you sure he's out for a walk?"

"Where else would he be?" The worried note in his voice was hard to miss. "Dean, Sam's a big boy and he's got a lot on his mind right now, a lot of concerns that I don't really understand. It's good for him to get outside and clear his head a little."

"I know that," he grumbled a little tersely, then let his head drop back against the couch. "I wish I could join him. Man, this cast is really driving me up the wall."

"How does your leg feel?" She glanced at the somewhat tattered-looking cast.

"I don't know. Better," he said. "It's hard to tell, really."

"Tell you what. We'll swing by the hospital tomorrow and have them take a look at it. If the bone's healed enough, maybe you can go back to a splint. Or maybe you can just lose the damned thing entirely. How about that?" she suggested.

That caught his interest. "Why not today?"

She eyed him. "I think you should take it slow today, Dean. You don't look so good," she said.

He sighed, then nodded. "Yeah, you're right. But tomorrow then, right?"

"Absolutely. Right after breakfast," she promised.

"Great," he said and smiled almost wistfully.

A moment later, the front door opened and Sam stepped in. Grace winked at Dean and rose. "There you are. You had us worried sick here," she said, propped her hands on her hips and gave him a look that made John's death glare seem like a damned puppy-look.

Sam stared at her, obviously taken aback by her reaction and instantly reverted to Dean for help. "Uh ..."

"You left without your phone. That was really stupid," she continued.

"Hey, cut him some slack, Grace," Dean warned. "What's wrong with taking a walk? We've been cooped up in this house for ages. About time one of us got out the door."

She glanced at Dean, folded her arms over her chest and struggled valiantly for a second to keep a smile at bay. Sam's expression was almost too cute right now. And then his expression changed from the slightly wounded puppy-dog look to a frown, which broke Grace's control and made her grin. "Sorry, Sam," she said. "That wasn't nice. Did you have a good walk?"

He narrowed his eyes a little, then pursed his lips, his expression becoming a little tight.

"Hey Sammy, did you forget to eat your bran muffins yesterday?" Dean asked, his tone even and slightly mocking. "'Cause ... from here, you look a little constipated."

That earned Dean an eye roll and Sam folded his arms over his chest. "What about you? Had any big greasy burgers yet?" he countered.

Dean's expression changed subtly. "Don't you dare," he warned.

"What about a maggot burger. I hear they're very nutritional," Sam continued and Dean started looking a little green.

"Shut up, Sam," he snapped. "This is so not funny."

"The hell it is," Sam shot back and geared up to continue pushing his brother toward the edge.

Grace threw up both hands. "Enough!" she said, her tone a bit stern. "You're making me sick to my stomach here. Please!" They both focused on her and she grimaced. "Please," she repeated. "What are you? Five?"

They glanced at each other and both of them smirked, which made Grace pat herself on the back mentally. Mission accomplished. They had teamed up against her, the way it should be, and it made her grin. Hopefully it would break the ice between them.

"I'm gonna go do some laundry," she said and shook her head in mock-sadness. "Maggot burgers?" she asked with a shudder and gave Sam a suffering look.

He half shrugged, an apology already on his lips, but she didn't let him get to it and instead hurried off to gather the rest of the laundry before heading into the basement.

***

Sam watched her go, fully aware of what that little spiel had been about. He made a face, then returned his attention to Dean. "So, are you seriously hung over? I can always go for another walk."

"Nah, I'm good. Just ... don't talk about ... " Dean grimaced. "Man, you're evil sometimes," he added.

"Like you're not," Sam said and dropped into the armchair across from him.

Dean stared into his coffee mug for a moment, then held it out to Sam. "It's cold," he stated.

"So?" Sam shot back.

"So get me a new one," Dean said and eyed him as if he couldn't grasp that Sam didn't get that on his own.

"What am I? Your maid?" Sam demanded. "Get your own damned coffee."

"You're still pissed at me. I get it," Dean said and sighed. "I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have snapped at you. But ..."

Sam eyed him closely for a moment. "What the hell did she feed you yesterday? Truth serum?" he asked. Yeah, he was still pissed at Dean, but this was one of those times where he just couldn't remain mad at his brother. Mainly because Dean was actually apologizing, which happened far too rarely.

Dean's expression tightened. "I'm trying to apologize here, man," he grumbled.

"Yeah, I get it. But, you know, instead of ripping my head off like that and then apologizing, why can't you just think about what you say before you say it?" Sam shot back and sighed. "I know you're going nuts being cooped up in this house all the time, but – honestly, dude – even on a for us normal day, you're still a jerk."

Again Dean held his mug out to Sam. "Get me some coffee, man. I can't function without caffeine," he growled.

Sam rolled his eyes, grabbed the mug and went into the kitchen to get them both a cup. He handed the mug back to Dean and threw a napkin at him too. "Try not to spill," he suggested and sat down again.

"You're a regular comedian today, aren't you?" Dean growled surly.

"Yean, and you're your average, sweet hung-over self," Sam shot back, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

"You have every reason to be pissed off at me," Dean tried.

"Yeah, I do," Sam agreed, not letting him go on.

"Okay, you don't want an apology. Fine. Suit yourself," Dean growled.

"You're insensitive and blunt like a damned ... blunt thing." Sam could have kicked himself. He was angry and he couldn't think clearly when he was angry and that made coming up with good analogies difficult.

Dean stared at him for a second and then he suddenly burst out laughing. "Oh man, you're some piece of work, Sammy," he sputtered and had to set the coffee mug on the coffee table to avoid spilling it all over himself.

Sam sighed, took a second to consider the situation, and then gave his brother a wry smile. "Jerk," he said and this time he didn't mean it.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "Bitch," he shot back and grinned. "So, are we good?" This came out almost a little timidly.

Sam nodded. "We're good," he confirmed.

They fell silent for a moment, but Sam could tell that Dean was thinking about something in specific and he knew his inability to find a proper analogy was going to come back and bite him on the ass. "A blunt thing, huh?" Dean asked and chuckled.

Sam made a face. "Shut up, Dean," he countered. "It's not like you're always eloquent."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Well, excuse me, Professor Winchester."

Sam gave him a withering glare. "You're more fun on the road," he muttered.

"What was that?" Dean asked and leaned forward.

"Nothing," Sam said. "I'm gonna bust out today. I need to be by myself for a while," he added.

"Take your damned phone with you then. And leave it on," Dean demanded.

Sam arched an eyebrow. "Who are you? My father? Get off my back," he warned and got up. "Jeez, you're fun to be around right now, aren't you? Poor Grace."

"What are you talking about? I'm a joy to be around," Dean claimed, his tone mockingly hurt.

"Yeah, just as much as a damned hangnail is," Sam muttered and walked into the guestroom to get his phone. Then he walked over to the doorway to the basement and opened it. "Grace? Can I borrow your car?"

"Keys are in the first top drawer in the kitchen," she called back.

"Thanks," he called back and closed the door again.

Dean watched him with serious eyes. "You can take the Impala if you want," he tried.

"That car makes me nervous," Sam admitted. "I'm never gonna hear the end of it if a bird craps on it. Grace is more relaxed about her car. Besides, her's has a cd-player and an iPod plug."

Dean made a rude noise. "Suit yourself," he said and returned his attention to his coffee. "Drive carefully, though. It's still slick out there."

"How would you know? You haven't been outside since we went to that bar," Sam shot back.

"Jeez, you're in a feisty mood today, aren't you? Get out of here, man," Dean said and waved him away.

"Don't pester Grace too much. It's not her fault that you don't know how to behave," Sam suggested, grabbed the keys for the four-wheel drive and took off before Dean could come up with something else he needed to get off his chest.

***

The second Sam had left, Dean deflated. Truth be told, he felt like crap. His stomach was roiling and he could still taste the whiskey from the night before. "Damn, that was a bad idea," he muttered to himself and briefly contemplated the bucket. Well, at least Sam was talking to him, even though it wasn't hard to see that the kid was still ticked off at him.

He desperately needed to pee, but getting up might turn the balance in favor of the bucket. Then again, he couldn't just sit around here and wait for his damned bladder to explode. "Shit," he muttered, grabbed the crutches, shifted forward to the edge of the couch and hauled himself to his feet. His chest felt better, he noticed. Not so much of a twang any more when he hoisted himself to his feet. His head was a different matter, though. He briefly closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, then made his precarious way over to the bathroom.

Relieving himself took a bit of the pressure off his stomach and he figured he could make it through the day without throwing up, but it did nothing for the dizziness and the fact that the cast weighed more than a ton today. Balancing carefully, he eased down on the lid of the toilet and just sat there for a minute. "Shit," he muttered. Okay, maybe he couldn't make it through the day without tossing his cookies. His stomach was not happy with him right now.

He drew in a couple of deep breaths, trying desperately to steady himself, but eventually gave up on it and struggled to his feet. Getting upright took the top of the urge to vomit. He swallowed hard and just stood for a moment, leaning heavily on his crutches, then decided he could make it back to the couch without any accidents.

By the time he was back on the couch though, the top was back on the need and within seconds of sitting back down, he had the bucket in his arms and was retching painfully into it, every heave his stomach insisted on shifting his healing ribs and causing pain.

"Aw shit," he finally muttered and raised his head a little only to see a glass of water held out in front of him.

He glanced up at Grace, who offered him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let you drink that much," she said. "Are you done?"

"For now," he rasped, took a swig of the water, sloshed it around in his mouth and spat it into the bucket as well before he let her take it. When she returned a moment later and set the bucket down on the floor next to him again, he gave her a tired look. "By the way, it's not your problem that I can't hold my liquor. I'm out of practice," he added.

"Out of practice?" She shook her head lightly. "Let me know if you feel up eating anything. I'll get you some more water." He dropped his head back against the couch when she disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a pitcher of ice-water, a bottle of Tylenol and a bag of ice wrapped in a dishtowel, which she placed on his brow.

"Aw man, that feels good," he groaned.

"Get some more sleep, Dean," she suggested with a smile on her lips.

"Yes, ma'am," he muttered, stretched out on the couch and kept the ice-bag on his brow. There were some definite advantages to staying with her, he thought before he drifted off.

***

Rolla City Public Library
Rolla, ND

It was like dying and going to Heaven, Sam thought. The hushed silence, the smell of books, the whispers of pages being turned here and there. He felt at home in libraries, had spent more time both studying and fact-checking in places like this than he had anywhere else. And this library had an interesting collection of books on supernatural phenomenon. That didn't mean they had anything useful, of course. Most of it was fiction, some of it was fact although the authors of those books obviously hadn't witnessed the events themselves. None of it gave him a living clue how to get his brother out of his damned deal.

He shifted the Styrofoam cup of latte to a more secure position on the table and leafed through the old tome Bobby had given him while cross-referencing a few things with history books and one interesting recount of demon deals that was meant to be fiction, but was based on a true account, according to the author. He figured he was far out to sea when he started digging through fiction to find the answers. But, like with so many things out there, there was always a grain of truth in the tales told by others. Not much of what he had read while in school had differed too much from the real deal he had been privy to most of his life.

Someone pulled a chair out across from him and sat down. He ignored the newcomer, had better things to do than pay attention to the people around him when the one person he cared most about was on the edge of the abyss, about to fall in.

"Heavy thoughts you're having today."

He froze, still staring at the text, but now not seeing it because his skin actually crawled a little from that tone. Then he looked up, met cold blue eyes across the table and couldn't help a sneer. He sent a brief glance around, couldn't help himself. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked quietly.

She tipped the chair back on its rear legs, braced herself with one boot against the edge of the table and fiddled with a pen she had found somewhere. "You like to exchange one prison for another, don't you?" she asked, ignoring his question. "What do you hope to find here?"

"What do you care?" he growled and returned his attention to the books. "It's not like you're doing anything to help."

"Everything in its time, Sammy," she said and smirked.

"It's Sam," he grumbled. He couldn't exactly claim that he was happy to see Ruby. In general he didn't much care for her, demon that she was. But she held the key to Dean's survival in her hands and he wasn't going to tick her off too much. "What do you want now?"

"Just checking up on my investment," she cooed, her tone flat, her eyes cold. "You're fighting a losing battle, Sammy."

He glared at her, had to forcefully remind himself to keep his voice down. The librarian sitting behind the counter down at the end – the epitome of the very word librarian with her half-moon spectacles suspended halfway down her long, narrow nose, the almost mandatory grey cardigan wrapped over her shoulders, the prim expression and the brushed-back hair – was already watching them and he really didn't want to get kicked out because Ruby couldn't keep her trap shut. "You wanna talk? If so, we should go somewhere else."

She dropped her foot and the chair slammed back down on the marble floor with a loud crack that drew attention from the other readers. "I'm just staying in touch, Sammy," she said and rose, planted her hands on the tabletop and leaned in. Her top was tight and low-cut and he could see the top rounding of her breasts when she leaned forward like that. "Shhh. No so loud," she shushed him mockingly, then pushed away from the table and was gone before he could think of one more thing to say to her.

He gritted his teeth and leaned back in his chair, mouthed 'bitch' and tried to align himself with the thought that she might be the only help they could get. Not a comforting thought on even the best of days. But Sam was willing to tolerate her abusive nature if it meant Dean didn't go to Hell in four and a half months time.

The enjoyment in the hunt for clues was gone and even though he felt the ever-present need to find something that would get his brother out of the deal, he knew he wouldn't find it here. He closed the book he'd brought with him and stuffed it back into his bag, then put the other books away and left the library. Instead of going straight back to Grace's, he took a walk through Rolla, not a big town, but big enough to help him pass the time, and ended up in a coffee shop at the other end of town, where he spent an hour just stirring another latte until it was cold before he left and headed back toward the parking lot where he had left the four-wheel drive.

To his immediate irritation, Ruby was sitting on the hood, legs crossed at the knees. She had obviously been waiting for him and it irked him. "Get off the car," he growled, unlocked the driver side door and threw his bag in the back.

She jumped off and stepped up to him. "Stop being such a bitch, Sammy," she advised. "That attitude may sail with your dimwit brother, but it doesn't sail with me. You want my help to save him, don't you?"

He took a step back when she eased closer. "So far you haven't done squat and we're down to four and a half months here. That's not a hell of a lot of time," he said.

"Plenty of time," she disagreed.

"No, it's not," he snapped. He was still pissed at Dean, he realized, but now he was transferring that anger to her. She pissed him off even more. "If you can get him out of his deal, do it now. If not, let me know and I'll look for help elsewhere."

She snorted, stabbed a finger against his chest. "I'm your last and only chance, Sammy," she said, her tone decidedly chilly now. "You piss me off, I go away and don't come back. Then you can see how you get your brother out of that deal." She took a step back, let her hand drop away, and shook her head. "Demon leader my ass," she huffed, turned and started to walk away.

He made a face. "Ruby, wait," he called out. Damn, he hated having to depend on her, but she was right. What were his options otherwise? He hadn't found anything yet and he'd spent a lot of time with his nose buried in books that should have given him the answer.

She stopped, kept her back to him, and he could almost see her smirk. "What? You're going to play nice?" she asked, still without turning.

He hadn't followed her and he felt completely helpless right now. "Yeah," he muttered.

"What?" she asked and turned back to face him. "I don't think I heard you there."

"Yes, I'll play nice," he stressed, unable to keep the edge out of his voice.

Her expression shifted into a contented smirk. "That's my boy," she cooed and sauntered back to him. "Don't you worry your pretty little head about this. I've got it covered. Dean's as good as out of his deal."

"When?" he asked.

"These things can't be rushed," she said and grabbed his chin. "He'll be out of his deal before his time is up. Okay?"

He stared at her, wished he didn't feel so damned anxious, and finally nodded curtly. "Okay."

The way she talked to him, treated him, would have put him off if she had been anyone else. But he could not let go of the one real chance he might have to break this damned deal without either of them having to die. She slapped his cheek lightly, gave him a smirk he had the greatest urge to slap off her face, then turned around and walked away. He watched her go until she disappeared from view, then sighed heavily. Whatever anger he had felt at his brother had fled and all he wanted was to get back to where Dean was, because he sure as hell didn't feel safe out here.

Suddenly anxious, he got behind the wheel and drove back to St. John, unable to focus on anything other than the nagging fear that Ruby was lying to him. Dean's words kept roaming through his head. 'She's a demon. Demon's lie.'