Dean doesn't know why this is the only clear thing in the liturgy of oh-shit-oh-shit-fuck-fuck-fuck! But it is.
The hellhounds are not pretty and Dean is glad that he's never been able to see them before. To be honest, he'd be equally happy if he'd never had to see them. Because dear God this piece of shit is the ugliest thing he's even seen in his entire life. And Dean has been around a lot of ugly things.
He can hear Sam screaming his name in the background and he wants to scream back. To beg for help, because now that it's here and it's happening, he's suddenly as scared as the night their mom died and dad had shoved Sam into his arms and told him to run.
But he can't because his mouth is full of blood. He can feel it pooling at the back of his throat and running down his chin.
And that bit of him, that 'big brother Dean' bit, is refusing to let the last memory Sam has of him be him begging to be saved. Especially when he knows Sam is trapped and can't reach him.
The hellhound's claws are ripping into him and Dean thinks they must be poisoned or something because this hurts worse than he thinks it should.
Or maybe it's because, even up to the last moment, he thought he'd get out of this somehow. That there was a loophole or a clause or something that he didn't know about that would save him at the last minute.
He tries to fend off the teeth but his hands are batted away without any effort.
Dean can't believe that this is how he's going to go out.
That this is the moment his life has been leading to.
He doesn't believe in God or heaven anymore and he knows that the good guys don't always win, but – damn it!
This is so fucking unfair.
The hounds back off for a moment, and Dean chokes. Maybe he can drown on his blood before they come back.
Lilith is leaning over him, surveying him like the main course. He can see the enjoyment in her eyes. The sick bitch is turned on by this.
With the last of his strength, Dean hocks and spits. A glob of blood hits her straight in the face and, for a moment, Dean thanks every backwater bar he's ever had to hustle in that taught him how to do that.
Lilith is not amused.
The hellhounds are back. And it seems that before they were just playing because now they're really ripping into him. He can see Lilith , wearing that fucking smirk, and then his eyes slide to Sam.
Sam, who's crying silently, still pinned to the wall.
Their eyes meet, then a hellhound grabs his throat and, despite everything, he lets out one last scream.
The world stops.
Dean can feel the teeth and the claws still digging into him, but they're not moving. He can't even feel the stinking breaths anymore. He can see Lilith and Sam, frozen. He can even pick out motes of dust in the air, hanging suspended, and Jesus is that his blood on the ceiling?
He's pretty sure he's supposed to be dead right now. He's not in pain though, so maybe he is. If so this is the weirdest hell he's ever been to.
What the Fuck is going on?
Dean jerks at the woman's voice and tries to twist around. The teeth in his neck make this harder than usual. But when he does finally see who else isn't frozen, his breath is sucked away.
Standing by his head is the most beautiful lady he's ever seen and, for a moment, he wonders if she's an angel.
She's tall, thick red hair curling over her shoulder, and wearing some sort of thin, white, drape-y material that looks part-dress, part-toga. She's also standing in a pool of his blood, but it's not staining the material. Dean has the weirdest urge to ask how she's managing it because Sam always bitches about blood ruining his clothes.
And, okay, maybe the blood-loss isn't killing him, but it's sure messing with his head.
She's looking down at him with boredom and a little distaste. But it's not like Dean can help it right now. Besides, he's feeling pretty Zen about it all.
He's been hanging around Sam too much if he knows words like 'Zen' and can use them in a sentence.
"You called me, mortal."
The woman frowns and clicks her fingers.
Dean finds himself completely free of Hellhounds. He blinks.
"I," the woman says pompously, "am Artemis, goddess of the hunt."
"Okay?" He says, bemused at this turn of events.
She huffs and crouches down, her hair tumbling so it brushes across Dean's cheek. "You have called me down to this plain, mortal-"
Dean's pretty sure he did no such thing.
"-and if you agree to my terms, I can grant you eternal life."
"Catch?" He asks, because he's pretty sure there's a catch and, apparently, he can only speak in one word sentences.
"You would have to fight forever, against the daimons. To preserve the souls of humanity. Always hiding in the dark. Always alone. A Dark Hunter."
And, okay, but that sounds like his life so far. Except the alone bit because he's had Sam for the last few years. And why did he get the feeling the word 'dark' was capitalized?
Also, that doesn't sound like a big enough catch for immortality. His disbelief must have shown on his face because the woman scoffs.
"Do you think me lying, mortal?"
"I think there's something you're not telling me."
She pouts. Dean thinks maybe this exchange will go a whole lot better if he wasn't lying in a pool of his own blood with his intestines half out.
"Fine. I require your soul."
There we go.
"I've already sold my soul. She's got it." He nods towards Lilith and immediately wishes he hadn't. When the room stops spinning it's to see Artemis looking unimpressed.
"You may have promised your soul to that thing but you called out to me. Besides, you're a hunter, you fall under my rule and I won't give anything to a demon."
"If she doesn't get my soul Sam will die."
This causes the woman to turn her gaze on his brother.
"He's a hunter too?"
Dean nods, slowly this time.
"Then he's mine too." She says, "And he'll die when I say he can die."
Dean's still not sure, but if he can get out of going to hell and still keep Sam alive then he's willing to spend time thinking about the offer. Especially when the job seems to be the same as the one he's been doing his entire life.
"So," he asks, just for clarification, "you'll keep Sam alive, keep me out of hell and give me immortality, and all I have to do is continue to be a hunter?"
Artemis thinks this through, "For the price of your soul. Yes."
Dean blinks. Well okay then. It's not like he's never sold his soul to someone before. And this chick seems nicer than the demon bitch. Anything that'll piss a demon off is worth doing.
And really, anything to keep him out of hell.
But, just to check…
"What if I say no?"
Artemis raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow and Dean is momentarily distracted.
"Then I leave and you'll go to hell."
Well if that's the case…
"And Sam will stay alive?"
"Yes, yes." She waves him off. "You'll become one of my Dark Hunter's and your brother will be kept alive."
Artemis smiles, and Dean gets the impression that maybe he should've taken his chances with the demons. But before he can do anything she's leaning back down. He flinches when her finger touches the wound on the right side of his throat. It doesn't hurt, but he still expects it to.
When he opens his eyes again, she's standing straight and holding what looks to be a stone in her hand. Is that his soul?
Dean shifts and notices he's been healed. His clothes are still blood soaked tatters but everything else…
He pats himself down just in case. Nope, all there and in good working order.
"Oh, just to let you know, you have twenty four hours to get retribution for your wrongs." Artemis says, "And then I'd get out of the sun if I were you. Unless you want to burn."
Dean turns to her with wide eyes. "What?"
"After that someone will be with you to train you in your powers."
"Powers?" Dean will never, ever, admit that his voice squeaked.
Artemis smiles, clicks her fingers and time restarts.
There's a shocked pause. Sam is staring at Dean who is standing up and looking completely healthy. Lilith is staring at Dean and the woman who has just appeared.
"What have you done to my hellhounds?"
Artemis shrugs and examines her nails, "They were in my way."
Dean can see Lilith gritting her teeth. Then her eyes focus on the stone in Artemis' hand. "That's my soul! He sold that to me."
And a demon having a temper tantrum just pushed Dean's weirdness scale off the charts.
Artemis levels the demon with a glare. "Hunter's souls belong to me, demon. You should have known this when you made the deal. I let it pass once, but never again."
"What do you care?" Lilith spits, "You're a bitch!"
Artemis' lips thin. "You think to insult me? Me? A goddess? Learn your place!" she laughs mockingly.
This seems to push Lilith over the edge because she lets out a scream of frustrated rage and dives for Artemis-
-who clicks her fingers.
Lilith, or the body holding Lilith, lights up from the inside. She looks shocked for a moment, then black smoke boils in her open mouth. Dean thinks the demon is going to escape but its sucked back in a moment before the body explodes.
Sam drops from the wall as the power keeping him pinned suddenly disappears.
"What the hell just happened?" Dean asks, because…well…what.
Artemis sniffs, and Dean notices that whilst both he and Sam are covered in goo, her dress is absolutely spotless.
"I killed her."
Sam blinks, "Killed the demon?"
Artemis rolls her eyes. "Yes. I don't like being attacked by minions with delusions of grandeur."
The next moment she's gone. Dean blinks and turns to Sam who seems to be having trouble working out what has just happened.
That's when Bobby arrives.
Dean doesn't really remember much after that. He's exhausted and only puts up a token protest when Sam takes the Impala's keys to get them home.
The lady's, Artemis', voice is still ringing in his head and, oh yeah, he has a really funky new tattoo where she touched his neck. It looks like a double bow and arrow.
Sam is silent in the driver's seat, but Dean can see the glances he's being thrown every few seconds. It's like Sam just can't believe that Dean's still here. That after a year, everything is done and sorted.
Not that Dean actually believes that. He knows that he's renegaded on a deal with a demon and got out of the out-clause because, like the woman promised, Sam is still alive and kicking. And he knows that there's probably going to be a massive fallout from this and all sorts of catches and fine print that he doesn't know he's signed up for but-
Sitting here in the Impala, the world outside stained with light on the eastern horizon, and Sam beside him; he can't bring himself to care. Artemis' words churn through his head again, especially the bit about burning in the sun after his time is up, and he makes a note to savour this last sunrise whilst he can.
It's with this thought that he slips off into sleep.
They arrive back at Bobby's late into the evening.
Dean wakes with a jolt and realises that he's slept away his last day of sunlight. He's only a little disappointed with himself, but he feels really, really good.
He feels even better when they get into the kitchen and realises that Bobby's stopped off on the way home and picked up what looks to be a crate of pie and beer.
Dean sits down and drags the nearest plate over to him.
Bobby is sitting opposite him and snorts, cracking open a beer. Sam is hovering in the background like a pale ghost until Dean kicks out a chair.
"Dean…" Sam says and Dean points his fork at him.
"But Dean, I-"
"No, Sam." Dean frowns, "Don't turn my pie into a pity pie, okay?"
Sam grimaces and nods, staring down at the table, looking like a kicked puppy.
Dean feels like a jerk.
He pushes over a plate with what looks to be apple pie on it damn it and Sam glances up at him through his fringe. Dean grunts.
"I'm happy you're not in hell."
The words come out rushed, like Sam expected Dean to snap at him for speaking and god that makes Dean feel like even more of a douchebag. Sam deserves the apple pie for that.
Bobby rolls his eyes at the byplay and pins Dean with a narrowed eye glare. "Now, boy."
And holy crap it's the you-will-not-mess-with-me-and-tell-me-every-wrong-you-have-ever-committed tone of voice.
Dean quails. Just a little.
"Yeah?" He asks, because he's a smartass and he's already died and Bobby's given him pie for still being alive so that must mean he cares. Right?
Maybe just a little?
"Mind telling me how you're ass isn't roasting in a fiery pit right about now?"
Dean swallows hard and the pie almost goes down the wrong way.
Oh crap. Bobby's going to kill him.
As expected Bobby chews Dean out when he explains what he's done. Then he sends both Sam and Dean off to shower whilst he buries himself in his books for any mentions of Dark Hunters, the freaky tattoo on Dean's neck or the goddess Artemis.
He's still going at it when Dean gets back from washing demon goo from his hair. Bobby ropes him in to search the illustrations for anything resembling the woman because, as Bobby explains, just because she said she was Artemis, doesn't mean she is.
Sam has disappeared somewhere and Dean worries that maybe he's trying to drown himself in the shower.
It's not until Dean's getting another beer when he notices Sam sitting on the porch through the kitchen window. It's not so weird a sight. When they were younger Sam used to like sitting out there with a book. He said it calmed him and he liked watching the sun set over the piles of beat up cars.
Dean had mocked him for it. But he had to admit that when the sun hit the metal just right, the whole place looked like it was on fire.
That wasn't so much a comfort now, but back then Dean thought it looked rather pretty. Then went to work on the Impala because no way was he admitting that.
Dean would leave Sam to his alone time, except the sun's already set and its getting cold. And he knows what this is about.
Bobby is still in the living room, searching through the books for any reference of Dark Hunters he can find. Dean is almost tempted to join him again.
Instead he sighs and goes out.
The door clattering against the frame startles Sam from whatever he's been thinking about and he jerks round, eyes wide. Dean can see him relax minutely and then tense, his face turning going through a range of emotions, when he catches sight of him. Dean thinks he can pick out a few of them; grief, relief, guilt, happiness, wariness, tiredness.
They cycle until Sam settles on something that's a mixture of guilt and exhaustion.
"Dean…" he says, half standing, twisting to face him.
Dean ignores whatever Sam is going to say, plopping down on the porch next to him and takes a swig of beer. It's disgusting, some cheap brand that Bobby picked up with the pie because it was the only thing the shop sold. But at the same time it's the sweetest thing he's ever tasted because this time yesterday he didn't think he'd ever drink beer again.
Sam hesitates for a few seconds, caught off guard by Dean's actions, but drops back down. Together they look out at the darkness.
Dean passes him the extra beer he'd got out of the fridge.
Together they drink.
Sam puts his bottle down slowly and drops his head into his hands, curling into himself. Dean is partially amused at how he can fit himself into such a small space. Then he hears a shaking breath that is almost, almost, a sob and it's not amusing at all anymore.
Dean grips Sam's shoulder. He can feel the way Sam is trembling, even if he can't see it, and Sam makes another one of those shaky breaths. His face still covered by his hands.
It reminds Dean of the time Sam was being bullied, and thought he couldn't tell Dean or their dad because he was scared of what they'd think of him.
Dean's suddenly fed up with all of this. He'd been attacked by demons and ripped apart by hellhounds, all in front of Sam.
Sam who had watched and lived and fought and stood with Dean through every day of Dean's last year on earth.
Sam who, it seems, is trying not to cry as he sits next to him.
Fuck it. He can give his brother a hug.
He slings his arms around Sam's shoulders and pulls him in in a tight one-armed hug.
Sam makes a startled noise; obviously he hadn't been expecting Dean to initiate anything. But before Dean can pull away in embarrassment Sam has turned and burrowed his way closer.
Dean thinks that maybe he should make a token complaint about the damp breath against his throat – right over that creepy new tattoo the lady had given him - or the way Sam is clutching his shirt so tightly it's starting to dig into the back of his neck.
But Sam's mumbling sorry-I'm-so-sorry-I-tried-to-move-I-couldn't-move-couldn't-get-to-you-oh-god-Dean against his shoulder.
Instead Dean takes another swig of beer.
"Idiot." He says fondly, in a gruff manly fashion because there is no way this is turning into a chick flick moment, and pulls Sam against him harder, resting their heads together.
Sam tightens his grip.
After their not-a-chick-flick moment, Dean and Sam head back inside to help Bobby.
"Well?" Dean asks.
Bobby snaps the book he's looking through shut and glares at the two of them. He takes in Sam's red eyes and pale face and his eyes soften for a moment.
Then Dean puts his bottle down on the table, perilously close to some rare manuscript of something or other.
Bobby glares at him from under his cap. "I'm not a damn machine. You know how many books there are? It'd go a lot faster if you two eejits help me."
He comes out harsh, but Dean knows how far this man put himself out for them. Knows that Bobby didn't run either, when he found out about Dean's deal. Went with him to stare his own death in the face.
He's suddenly grateful that this man is in his life.
"Yeah, okay." Dean says easily, sliding into a seat and pulling a book over from one of the piles. "What we looking for again?"
Sam snorts, and Dean is relieved to see his lips twitch up into a smile. "Dark Hunters. Or anything to do with the Greek pantheon."
"Right," Dean says, "because we all believe that the goddess Artemis came down to save my sorry ass."
Sam shrugs as he pulls his own book over. "Someone did."
"And if they weren't the goddess Artemis, then we should still figure out who it was, because they killed Lilith like a bug on a windshield."
Dean swallows, feeling his stomach roll as he remembers just how Lilith died, and holy shit that lady was powerful. She'd killed the strongest demon Dean thinks he's ever gone up against with a wave of her hand. Like Lilith had been nothing.
And he'd sold his soul to her.
Bobby was right, he really was an eejit.
They manage to find a grand total of nothing.
Nowhere, in the whole of Bobby's collection, is there any mention of Dark Hunters.
It might have helped if they have more than the name to go off of. But not even the myths of the Greek pantheon had wielded information.
Bobby is rechecking the books in the belief that they'd just missed the information somewhere. Sam is checking the internet, but all he'd been able to find so far was a group that role played something or other along the geeky lines. Dean is cleaning his knives, having taken over the table by the front window to do so. A shotgun lay, fully loaded, by his elbow.
All of them were studiously not looking at the clock.
Sam is the first to break the silence.
He doesn't finish his sentence, but then again, he doesn't need to. What time will the somebody the lady mentioned be arriving.
Dean's twenty four hour grace period is almost up.
Dean concentrates on a spot on the blade - dried blood, rusted the metal slightly - and reaches for the oil.
It's Bobby who answers Sam's question.
"By my reckoning, we got about ten minutes." There's a sigh, "That is, if the person is bang on time."
Dean's hand hesitates.
This time yesterday he'd been getting ripped apart by hellhounds.
He puts down the knife and picks up the shotgun, checking the rounds of rock salt. When he's satisfied he looks up. Sam is giving him a weird look. He ignores it and glances at the clock.
Five minutes left.
"Dean?" Sam asks hesitantly.
Dean stares out the window; from here he can see the whole of the driveway leading up through the car lot. Not that there's much to see, but the moon has risen enough that he'll be able to pick out anyone arriving.
"This person is gonna be sent by that lady. I'm not just going to sit back and let whoever it is waltz up to the front door and take me without getting some answers."
There's a silence and then Sam is standing on the other side of the front door, keeping an eye on both it and Dean, and Bobby is muttering about checking the salt lines again and guarding the back.
The five minutes tick over and nothing happens.
Dean can see Sam is tense but ready. He has the bearings of a true hunter at this moment, but there's a hint of desperation in it.
He knows why, but there's nothing that Dean can possibly say right now that will make it better. So he turns back to watching out the front window for someone to arrive.
Which is why he doesn't expect to hear a strangers voice coming from right behind him,
Before his mind can catch up with his body he has his shotgun up and aimed and fired.