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my heart's aflame

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Dean kisses her first.

He's got about two weeks left before the hounds come for him and he's scared. Petrified, really. She can see it all over him when she pops up behind him in a dirty gas station bathroom somewhere in Iowa. He's white knuckling the grimy sink, head bowed, searching for answers that he won't be able to find.

''Lookin' a little clammy there, Dean,'' she drawls. She makes sure to smirk when she says it, just so he can hear it in her voice. It's mean spirited, she knows, to kick a man when he's down. But he's a bastard anyway. He's never treated her with anything but disrespect. Called her every name in the book. It's not her responsibility to coddle someone who does nothing but fling abuse at her.

He doesn't raise his eyes but he does exhale and let out this short, sharp bark of incredulous laughter. ''Ruby,'' he says her name like it's poison on his tongue. ''What do you want from me?''

She dodges the question. She's not ready to answer that one yet. She's definitely not ready to admit that she doesn't know. ''Two weeks left,'' she says instead. ''You're losing your edge.''

His eyes meet hers in the mirror. ''And you care because...?''

She shrugs, crossing her arms over her chest. ''I don't, really. You're not my concern. But I need you sharp while you're here. Sam - ''

He whirls around suddenly, eyes like fire, and she takes a step away. It startles her. And she doesn't do startled. ''You think I need you to tell me what I need to be for Sam?'' He keeps walking toward her and she keeps moving back, away from him. ''I know how to look out for Sam,'' he says. ''It's all I know.''

''Careful, Dean,'' she says, and offers him a wolfish smile. ''Your bitterness is showing.'' Despite the calm, steady, smooth tone of her voice, she has to admit she's a little unnerved by his slow, predatory movements. It's a new look on him. Maybe he'll make a good demon yet. There's tragedy in that. He backs her up against the wall, bravely steps into her space, and stares down at her, jaw ticking, like she is somehow less than him. If he had more time, she'd damn well teach him some manners.

''What do you think you're doing?'' She asks, tilting her head to the side.

He slips a knee in between her legs and places a hand on the wall behind her head. ''Isn't this what you wanted? Isn't this why you're here?'' He leans down to whisper in her ear. ''You think I don't know what game you're playing? I've seduced enough people to know what you want.''

Ugh, that again. She's getting real tired of this same old song and dance. ''If I were you,'' she begins. ''I wouldn't presume to know anything about - ''

He kisses her.

Just like that.

It's unexpected. To say the least. She had been preparing herself for an attack. Which, honestly, this still could be. If she had been expecting this, she probably wouldn't have kissed back. As it is, she slips. She loses focus. The humanity she has clung to so desperately, the part of her that wants and wants and wants, her foolhardy heart, makes her melt. Just for a second. Just one second. It's a harsh and bruising kiss, and she makes sure to give as good as she gets. If she were anyone else, if she had less control, she would probably let him take what he seems to need so desperately. There is a tiny part of her that almost wishes she was anyone else right now. But she's not anyone else. She is all control, she doesn't want it this way, this harsh and biting mess, and she will not let him take anything.

She refuses to be part of the wreckage that Dean fucking Winchester is about to leave behind.

She bites down on his lip until she tastes his blood in her mouth and shoves him away with a laugh as cruel as she can muster. ''Oh, honey, no,'' she sneers, wiping the blood from her mouth. ''You don't get to do this with me. You don't get to make me into some sex toy you can use and abuse to make yourself feel better. Your ache is your ache. It's not my responsibility to soothe it.''

He stumbles back, looking startled by his own actions. He's panting, looking disgusted by what he's done. She can't tell if he's horrified that he's kissed a demon or that he did it without her consent. Frankly, she's betting on the former.

''If you do something like that again, you won't make it to your deadline,'' she warns. It's the plainest threat she can make. ''Do you understand me?'' He doesn't respond, slowly wiping the blood from his lips. She hates that he's not responding. She wants acknowledgement. She wants him to understand that he's not a demon yet and he doesn't get to act like one. Because she's so rattled, so pissed off and bitter, she takes a step toward him and twists the knife. ''For the record,'' she begins, still trying to catch her breath, ''it wouldn't be you.'' She gives him a cold onceover, a cruel look so he knows he is beneath her. ''It would never be you.''

It must sting a bit because this horribly bitter smirk twists onto his face and he says, voice like honey, ''I can do better anyway.''

''Go fuck yourself,'' she spits back, lazily.

He coughs out a shaky laugh. ''Back in the game, huh, bitch?''

And that's the end of that.

He'll wash her away with whiskey as soon as he leaves, she'll drown the feel of his hands and the way he tasted in some nameless person she picks up at a bar, and this will be forgotten. A single indiscretion. We're all allowed one.

It's not like it matters anyway. He's a dying man. Even if he wasn't, she's never planned on sticking around with these tools after she makes damn sure they win the war. She has far better things to do. One weak moment isn't enough to change her plans.

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Ruby kisses him last.

He's dying, trembling violently, a mess of blood and slipping and slipping, and she can't save him this time. She's spent nine years pulling him from the fire and she can't this time. Can't brute force her way through the bad guys to rescue him. And no one is going to pull him out this time. It's not like last time. There is no grand plan, no bigger picture, no fated return, no wars the Righteous Man needs to win. If he dies, he's dead for good.

She had not been expecting this inevitable day to hurt so much. Hadn't really thought she would be able to feel grief this strongly. ''Dean,'' she tries her best to keep her voice steady and calm, and she fails miserably. She doesn't want to move him. She doesn't want to waste whatever energy he has trying to do the impossible. He won't make it to a hospital and even if he did, what would they be able to do for him? He'd die alone, surrounded by strangers. No. No, she's not going to let that happen. ''You stupid idiot,'' she growls, pressing the cloth tight against the wound in his chest. It doesn't do much; the warm blood keeps flowing and covering her hands.

His wet, struggling gasps turn into a rumbling, choked sort of laughter. It hurts just to hear. ''That's redundant, honey.''

''Oh my god, shut up. Are you seriously patronizing me right now? Why did you do this?'' She demands. ''Did you really think you could win?''

He lifts a shoulder in a shrug, only to immediately moan in agony at the movement. ''Had to try,'' he slurs. ''Didn't I?''

''Um, no. You really didn't.'' There is nothing she can do here. The blood just keeps coming. It's on his teeth and his lips and the look in his glazed over eyes tells her he's going into shock. The only comfort is that the sooner he goes into shock the sooner he'll go numb. He'll be gone soon. All she can do is keep him comfortable and thank god that Sam isn't here to make this so much worse than is has to be. ''Dean,'' she says his name again, quietly, and has to close her eyes when she feels his hand on top of hers, either to keep the already blood soaked cloth in place or just to touch her.

''Ruby.'' It's not a gasp this time. Despite everything, he sounds clear and firm. ''It's okay. Hey, Rubes - listen.'' He squeezes her hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. ''It's better this way.'' She gapes at him, incredulous. ''The Mark,'' he says. ''It's making me into something I don't want to be.''

''We could have fixed this,'' she insists. ''I would have found a way. You didn't have to - It didn't have to end this way, you self-sacrificing jackass.''

He shakes his head. ''You would've gotten yourself into trouble for me.''

''I'm always in trouble for you.''

''You don't get to die for me,'' he snaps, heated. He coughs, bringing up more blood. ''I need - '' He stops, licking his bloodied lips. He closes his eyes briefly. If she didn't have her hands on his chest, feeling his shallow breathing, she would think that's it. ''Tell Sammy,'' he opens his eyes. ''Tell him I'm proud of us.'' He makes an attempt to smile but it looks pained and forced. ''I don't know if he'll want to hear it but tell him anyway. Take care of the kid, yeah?''

''You know I will.'' There's a lump in her throat that she can't swallow down and burning behind her eyes. She doesn't have the luxury of crying. She won't allow it. But there's all of these things that she never said weighing her down, things she has tried to ignore for so long, and this is her last chance to say them. She takes his face in her bloody hands with as much tenderness as she has, and leans in to kiss him. It's a soft kiss, so unlike them, but he kisses back instantly. Without question. If she's surprised by that, she'll never admit it. When she pulls away, hands still on his face, forehead pressed to his, she lets it slip for the first time in years. ''I love you,'' she whispers, painfully choking out the words that she hasn't said in... She doesn't even know how long. ''I love you. Did you know that?''

He grins at her, bloody teeth and all. ''I didn't, actually.'' A bloody chuckle. ''Ain't that a bitch? That's some shit timing, babe.''

''I know. I know. I'm sorry. But, sweetheart, it's you,'' she gets out. ''I don't know how you did it,'' she laughs, ''but somehow you just carved yourself a place in here with me. You stubborn ass.''

''You hate me for that a little bit, don't you?''

''Oh, more than a little,'' she tells him. ''You have completely fucked me up.''

He looks tired. ''Guess...'' He makes this awful sound - something between a cough and a gasp, this horrible gurgling noise - and her heart falls to her stomach. ''Guess we missed our shot,'' he manages to get out, ''huh?'' He draws in a rattling breath. ''I'm sorry.''

''Don't be sorry,'' she murmurs. ''Don't be sorry, Dean. Just...'' She pauses. She's not sure how to do this. How to comfort a dying person. She's not exactly what one could call comforting. What does a dying person want to hear? What does Dean want to hear? ''I want you to know that you were loved,'' she finally settles on. ''Okay? You were so loved.'' It sounds overly simple. Not as valorous as she had planned. If she were in his position, she'd call it sentimental drivel. If she were in his position, she wouldn't believe a word of it. It is also, however, true. He may not feel it but there are a lot of people he's leaving behind who love him.

He smiles at her one last time. It's a fragile, aching kind of smile. She can tell just by the look in his eyes. ''You've gone soft.''

''I have,'' she grins. ''And you're to blame.''

''Looks good on you.''

''Baby,'' she whispers. ''I always look good.'' She doesn't bother with anymore words. There's nothing left to say and no time left to say it. She leans in and kisses him again, faster this time, more desperate. It'll be the last time, she knows that. She can taste his blood in her mouth when she kisses him. She doesn't stop kissing him, doesn't pull away, until he stops kissing her back, until his hand falls limply away and she feels his final breath leave him.

She pulls back, but can't bring herself to take her hands off of him. She gives herself a moment to try and fail to breathe and then the rage settles over her like a second skin and she rises to her feet and steps back, away from him. She stares down at the body at her feet. It's not hard to plan what she'll do next. She'll let Sam and his inevitable guilt handle the grieving.

She's going to go for throats.

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''Gotta say, Dean,'' she closes the bedroom door behind her and slinks over to where he's standing in front of the mirror. ''Feels like there's something of a missed opportunity here.'' He is leaning in close to the mirror, staring at his reflection like he's waiting for his eyes to fall back to black. She leans in as close to him as possible, close enough to feel the heat radiating off of his body, and snaps her teeth. ''You could've been like me,'' she purrs, lips right next to his ear.

She doesn't get the harsh, biting response she had been expecting. He lets out this snort of laughter that makes him sound possibly a little bit hysterical and meets her eyes in the mirror. The sound lifts a weight off of her chest. ''Oh, now, you know there's no one else like you, Rubes.'' He stands straight, turning to face her. ''You're one of a kind.''

''Can't tell if that's an insult or a compliment,'' she comments lightly, ''but either way - you're damn straight.'' She eases herself onto the bed, suppressing a slight grunt of pain. She winds her arms around her stomach and crosses one leg over the other. The movement tugs at her shredded abdomen. She schools her face into a carefully blank expression and refuses to show pain.

''So, what's the deal with you and Sam?''

That is not a question she's prepared to answer. ''What do you mean?'' She responds innocently.

''Ruby,'' he arches an eyebrow. ''Come on. You think I haven't noticed?''

Honestly? Yeah, kind of. He has spent most of the day having the humanity tortured back into him. She's not sure how he's still upright.

She releases a breath and thinks of the argument she and Sam had right after his death, when her hands were still covered with his blood and there was a body lying on a bed, still and gone. ''Isn't this what you wanted?'' She had sneered, shoving at Sam's chest when he tried to hug her. ''You've treated him like garbage for the past few months and now that he's dead, you want to act like a sniveling, whining brat who lost something? Do you even care that he's dead?''

She rubs at her jaw absently. She can still feel that right hook. She beat the crap out of him and she'd do it again because nobody gets to lay their hands on her like that without consequences, but she might've deserved it. She had been harsher than intended, crueler than necessary, and she still doesn't feel as guilty as she probably should. Sam acted like a shit for months, the things he did in Dean's name while he was trying to track him down were disgusting - even to her - and knowing Sam, the next time he gets in a fight with his brother, he'll pull the whole 'look at the terrible things I did for you, you owe me' routine. Listen, she loves the kid, but it's always going to be a Sam-centric world for him. He's made that clear over the past couple of years. It's not a bad thing to want things for yourself. To be selfish. It doesn't make him a horrible person. It just means they don't get along they way they once pretended to and after everything that's happened, she's not sure that's a possibility. She'd still die for the guy, though. Guess that would be her flaw. She'd rather be selfish.

''When you were off on your black eyed sabbatical, he made some choices I didn't agree with,'' she says simply. ''And I guess I made some choices that he didn't agree with.'' She manages a small smile. ''Turns out you're kind of the glue of this messed up...'' She falters on the word 'family.' ''...Whatever this is.''

A wry smile crosses his lips and then disappears as soon as it appears. He moves to stand in front of her, peering down at her, lips pulled into a frown. She meets his gaze steadily and doesn't look away. His hand goes to her face, gently turning it to the side so he can inspect the black eye and split lip. ''How's your stomach?''

''Fine,'' she says shortly. ''Healing.''

''Can I see it?''

''No,'' her response is curt - maybe a little too curt. She tries to soften. ''It's just a flesh wound,'' she tries.

He doesn't even crack a smile. ''Shouldn't you be healing faster? When I was - '' He stops short. She suspects it will be awhile before he's able to say it out loud. ''I healed right away.''

''Yes, but you weren't just a demon,'' she points out. ''You were the new Cain. You had more power than - You were incredibly powerful, Dean.'' It seems to throw him. She's guessing Crowley hadn't told him that. Probably worried he'd lose his grip and his brand new puppy would tug off the leash. Yeah, she's definitely going to kill that bastard one day. You know, it's almost a shame. She knows that it's awful and that it wasn't what he wanted but... All that power. Gone. Wasted. Despite the absolute horror she had felt facing off against him, they had never been as evenly matched as they were in that alleyway. It was like a dance. They could have done anything together. They could have done everything together. ''I'm low level,'' she adds. ''And a traitor. I don't have much power. It'll take a day or two for me to heal completely. I'll be fine. I'm always fine.'' She stands up as slowly as possible in an attempt to not aggravate her wound, but can't quite keep the grimace of pain from flashing across her face.

Dean latches onto her arm immediately, trying to steady her even though she doesn't need steadying. ''I did this to you,'' his voice is quiet. He sounds horrified.

She has to bite her tongue to keep from rolling her eyes. ''I gave as good as I got,'' she reminds him. ''And I won, if you remember correctly. It doesn't matter how powerful you are, Dean, I will always be able to take you. Remember that.''

''Still. I'm - ''

She holds up a hand, halting his useless and unwelcome apology before he can say it. ''Save the apologies for someone who needs it. We're good.'' She offers him a genuine - albeit tight lipped - smile and brushes past him. She needs a drink, a hot bath, a lot of fries with a lot of ketchup, and to sleep for like a billion years. Hopefully without nightmares of the past few weeks. ''You should get some rest.'' She turns to leave, gets almost all the way to the door, and then he says it.

''Were we in love?''

The question halts her in her tracks. She whirls around, eyes wide, lips parted in shock. ''Were we - what?'' How is she supposed to answer that?

He doesn't look at all shocked or sheepish about the question that has just slipped out of his lips. He doesn't look like he wants to take it back. He is looking at her with this - this look on his face that she has never seen before. ''Were we in love?'' He repeats. ''Before.'' He takes a step. ''Did you mean what you said?''

Ruby considers her options. There's no way out, she knows that. Dying declarations hold weight. She presses her lips together tightly and wonders. What will he think of her if she says it? What would it change? Would she care if it did?

The truth, the one that she has lived with for so long in silent acceptance, is that somewhere between pulse points, in between black coffees, shitty motels, bleeding ketchup bottles dry, and apocalypses, Ruby fell in love with a boy. It happens, she supposes. It just wasn't supposed to happen to her. It certainly wasn't supposed to be with him.

''I did,'' she nods. ''I do.'' She hears him inhale sharply. ''I've loved you for a long time,'' she says simply, walking over to him. ''But you...'' She reaches out to place her hand over his heart. It's beating. The last time she had her hand on his chest, he was just a body, still and lifeless. ''You don't love me.'' She smiles lightly and pulls her hand away. ''It's not in you to love something like me. I knew that a long time ago. So, relax. You're off the hook.'' She pats his cheek and turns, flicking her hair over her shoulder.

''I wanted to come home to you.''

She hesitates, hand on the doorknob. Her teeth sink into her lower lip but she doesn't turn around.

''I was a demon,'' he spits the word out. ''I was something evil.''

As a demon, she should maybe be offended that he thinks her kind is so disgusting and unfathomable but he's right. Being a demon has its strengths. Invulnerability is pretty cool. Comes in handy when she needs to take a bullet for one of these fragile human men who get themselves into the stupidest situations. The healing, the superstrength. All advantages in her line of work. Other than that, it's basically the worst. She hates it. Also, she is a traitor among her kind so most demons try to brutally murder her the second they lay eyes on her, so. There's that.

''I was completely off the rails,'' he goes on. She takes a deep breath and turns around. He looks scarred by what has happened to him, undoubtedly traumatized by the emptiness he must have felt when he was a demon. She has to swallow. She understands the emptiness. Demons feel emotions, they do, but not as deeply as humans do. Ruby has gotten used to the hollowness, has made a home in it, but for someone like Dean - someone who feels everything so much - it must have been awful. ''I didn't care about anyone or anything,'' he says. ''There was so much violence and hate. I was an asshole.''

''Oh, because you're so warm and cuddly as a human?''

It breaks a little of the tension. His lips curve up briefly. ''My point,'' he emphasizes, ''is that even as some demonic douchebag, there was still a part of me that just wanted to go home to you. Even this,'' he gestures vaguely to where the Mark still rests heavily on his arm, ''couldn't burn your stubborn ass away. Don't you think that means something?''

She opens her mouth but nothing comes out. It is not often she is rendered speechless. She is not one to be left without a snarky comment. When she is, however, it's usually because of him. Nine years, and it's always him. The fucker.

He keeps walking toward her slowly, with this determined look on his face. She crosses her arms uncomfortably but remains rooted to the spot defiantly. ''We've spent years doing this bullshit,'' he points out. ''Sooner or later, one of us is gonna get taken out and we're fresh outta get out of jail free cards, sweetheart. The next time I die, I'm dead. I don't want to wait until I dying to kiss you again.''

''I am a good kisser,'' she relents.

''Ruby, I don't want to miss our shot completely because we're cowards.''

She looks up at him quizzically and attempts to determine if he's genuine, if he feels sorry for her and is just throwing her a bone - so to speak - or if he just needs a warm body because he's scared of dying alone. More importantly, is she far gone enough to let him use her like that? Has this ridiculous 'love' thing turned her into someone willing to be used just so she can pretend that someone loves her back? She tilts her head to the side.

No.

She is not that person.

''So,'' she deadpans. ''You're saying you want to fuck?''

His hands grip her arms and he bends his knees slightly so he's eye level with her. ''I'm saying I want to be with you.''

She blinks. ''How very Nicholas Sparks of you,'' she says, wrinkling her nose.

''Wow, rude.'' Wisely, he lets go of her arms and steps back. ''Offense taken.''

She manages a half hearted chuckle. ''Well, it was an offensive comment.'' She chews on her lip thoughtfully. Honestly, she's fucking exhausted right now and she's not sure she can handle this conversation. She never used to get tired. Humanity is rubbing off on her. ''Dean,'' she sighs. ''It would never work. You know that, right?''

''I'd say it's at least 50/50.''

''We'd kill each other. Quickly.''

''Okay. Yeah. Maybe.'' There's a sparkle in his eyes that she hasn't seen for at least half a year as he leans in close to whisper in her ear, breath hot against her skin. ''But what a way to die.''

Nine years ago, Ruby would have scoffed, rolled her eyes, and walked away. But nine years is a long time. People change. She certainly has. Her edges have softened considerably. Her self control has dwindled severely. She has grown so incredibly tired of being hard and emotionless, always putting what she wants on the backburner to save a world that seems intent on destroying itself or two men who seem intent on dying. She did not sign up to be a lonely martyr. So, you know what? Screw it. She's a demon. She takes what she wants when she wants it. She is a selfish bitch. That is something she has been told more than once and that is something that will never change.

Her eyes darken. She reaches up, curls one hand around the back of his neck, and roughly pulls his lips down to hers. Just as a test. He kisses back eagerly, hands moving to cup her face. It's not a frustrated kiss meant to quell fear and shut her up. It's not a last dying kiss. It's something else entirely. It is also fast. She draws back quickly, almost too quickly, leaving him dazed. She delights in the small whine-like sound he makes when she takes her lips away.

And, okay, so Dean Winchester does happen to be an amazing kisser. Her breathing is shaky and heavy but there is a pleasant warmth spreading in her gut and tingles everywhere. Definitely not going to tell him that, though.

''Uh,'' he sounds hoarse. ''So.'' He clears his throat. ''First non-dying kiss.''

She does her best to look unaffected when he pulls back, bringing two fingers up to her lips. ''Hmm.''

He eyes her carefully, almost nervously. It's stupidly adorable. ''How was it?''

She pauses. ''Meh,'' she shrugs. ''Seven. Seven point five maybe.''

''Seven...'' He stares at her, gaping in what looks to be deep, deep offense. ''Seven point five? What the - Are you kiddin' me? Fuck that.'' He curls a finger through the belt loop on her jeans and yanks her back to him, covering her mouth with his.

She giggles - actually giggles - into his mouth and winds her arms around his neck. ''Well, I guess we'll just have to work on it,'' she murmurs, scraping her nails down his cheek lightly. ''Won't we?''

end