Dean jumped up from the couch and raced for the nearest gun. "What d'we got?"
Bela was right behind him, nervously touching the amulet at her throat with one hand while she scooped up a weapon with the other.
"Demon," Sam reported grimly, and pointed out the window above the kitchen sink.
A tall, burly man with pure black eyes was striding fiercely towards the cabin, an axe in his hand. He swung it a few times in a threatening arc.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" he bellowed in a great, booming voice.
From behind him emerged a second man, shorter with dark skin, but no less muscled.
"Make that two," said Sam.
Bela paled. "Shit, shit, shit…"
The boys threw open the window and immediately started firing off salt rounds to keep the things at bay. Bela backed away, deciding it was probably a good idea if she stayed away from the windows for now. Her eyes were drawn to the door and she suddenly had the urge to run.
No, she thought. It's safe in here – it's warded.
But she was walking towards the door anyways. She set her weapon down on the chair.
They'll protect me. Dean and Sam will keep me safe.
She knelt down in front of the door, clutching the amulet around her neck tight with one hand while the other slowly reached for the salt line. Panic spiked in her chest but her arm wouldn't listen and stop, and her voice suddenly fled her throat.
Damn it, Bela, stop! Don't let it control you!
She shut her eyes and used every ounce of will power she had to try and prevent her hand from breaking the salt line. Her hand hovered and quivered, inches above the line of safety. Sweat broke out on her forehead and she tried to call out for Dean, but her lips wouldn't open, and she couldn't pull her damn hand back –
"Bela, no!" he hollered behind her.
Her hand dropped and brushed away a chunk of the line.
"I'm sorry!" she cried, her voice back under her control. "I couldn't – "
Before she finished her sentence, and before Dean reached her side, the door was blasted off its hinges. The force of it threw Bela across the room and she slumped against the wall. The taller demon crossed the threshold and the boys each barely had a chance to get a shot off before the demon's hand twitched and their guns went flying.
Sam immediately started reciting an exorcism passage, while Dean scrambled for his other gun. As the second demon entered the cabin, Sam's mouth snapped shut and he could no longer speak. Dean was back on his feet and shot the big one wielding the axe, while Sam unsheathed his dagger and charged the smaller, dark one.
The salt round glanced off the burly guy's shoulder. He took a swing at Dean with his axe, Dean dodged him and aimed for the guy's hand this time. The demon yelped and let go of the axe, but rather than diving to retrieve it, he gave a furious roar, bolted forwards and tackled Dean to the cabin floor. The wind rushed out of Dean in a big gust, his gun clattered out of his fingers, and the demon's fist slammed into the side of Dean's head. He saw white and then the pressure of the demon's body was off him as Dean gasped for breath.
As he rolled over, he realized why: the demon was headed straight for Bela. She struggled to sit up out of the pieces of the door surrounding her. Dean jumped to his feet, gulping air and trying to shake the stars out of his eyes as he lunged and took the demon out at the knees. The guy crashed straight down, his face cracking on the floorboards. Dean was too far away from the axe so he snatched up his spare knife from his belt and jabbed it between the demon's shoulder blades. The thing wailed in pain and twisted away.
Sam shouted and Dean whirled to see what was going on, when he realized Sam had the dark one pinned. Sam had managed to overcome whatever the demon had done to him to stop him from speaking, and he was hastily reciting an exorcism passage. His dagger had been knocked away from him and Dean reached to grab it at once to use against the big guy.
"Behind you!" Bela called. She was on her hands and knees, bleeding from the head.
Dean swung the dagger around in a wide arc and caught the big one in the gut. He sputtered and growled for a moment, reaching for Dean's throat, before his eyes rolled back into his head and a black column of smoke came screaming out of his mouth. Across the room, Sam finished exorcising the other demon.
Dean collapsed backwards onto the cabin floor, sweating and panting, dizzy and sore. He glanced at Bela. She was pale and shaky, still on her hands and knees. Her arms quivered as she tried to get to her feet, but the amulet was dragging her down, visibly cutting into her neck like it was incredibly heavy.
"Help…" she whispered.
Dean hurried to her side and for a moment he couldn't see what was wrong. Then he looked down at her hands to see her wrists encircled in something black and wet looking. Her hands were covered with it, and the goo was slowly making its way up her arms.
"What the hell?" Dean exclaimed in horror.
He'd never seen anything like this before. He jumped up and grabbed a container of salt, and poured a bunch out onto the stuff. It sizzled and bubbled, but didn't slow down. Bela's eyes were glistening with frightened tears.
"Sam!" Dean bellowed. "Need a little help here!"
Sam fell to his knees on the floor beside them. His eyes darted frantically over Bela and the black stuff, which was now at her elbows. The amulet around her neck was leaning at an unnatural angle towards the stuff, while Bela was doing her best to lean away, even though it was taking an incredible amount of effort.
"What is it?" Dean demanded. He hated how helpless she looked.
"Holy water!" said Sam, and bolted to the kitchen and back with a jug of it.
As soon as he poured it on the muck, it smoked and fell away from Bela's skin, dissolving to nothing. Her skin was pink like mild sunburn, but seemed otherwise unharmed. Sam emptied the jug on her arms. When the last of the black stuff trickled away, the amulet dropped against her chest, and Bela collapsed backwards. Dean reached out and caught her before she hit the floor, gently turning her so she was able to lean against the wall.
As the three of them panted and caught their breath in the aftermath, Dean turned his brother.
"So… what was… that stuff?" he asked in between breaths.
Sam shrugged. "Hell if I know."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "The holy water…?"
"Blind guess," Sam admitted. He pushed the hair out of his eyes. "Glad it worked."
"Me… too," Bela replied wearily. She was sporting a fresh gash on her cheek and at her hairline, and the shadows under her eyes were so dark they looked like deep bruises. She momentarily closed her eyes.
Dean clenched his jaw briefly. "Okay," he said. "I think this officially stopped being funny."
Her eyelids fluttered open and her gaze landed on Dean. "I'm glad... we finally agree... on something," she panted softly.
Once the salt and cinnamon lines had been repaired, and the handful of sprites who'd made it inside during the demon attack ganked, Sam broke out his laptop to find a way to end Bela's curse. Dean restocked their salt rounds and removed the empty bodies left by the demons. Outside, the sun was almost set, and the sky had faded from brilliant orange and pink hues to a moody navy.
Bela huddled on the couch across from Dean. She twitched and cringed at small noises and he could tell she was afraid to leave his sight, lest the amulet compel her to break their wards again. It bothered him to see her look so frightened, but he couldn't think of a single comforting thing to say.
"I think I finally found something," said Sam. He jotted a few things down on a piece of paper. "I'm going to have to go get supplies, though." He glanced uneasily at Bela before settling his hesitant gaze on his brother. "You… going to be okay?"
"The sooner this is over, the better," Dean replied, cocking the shotgun in his hands. "We'll be fine." He flashed Sam a smile, full of confidence he didn't exactly feel. He set the shotgun down and moved on to the next one.
Sam nodded, shoving the piece of paper with the list of supplies in his pocket. He grabbed his jacket, a gun, his dagger, a container of salt and cinnamon and he headed out the back door. Either the creatures that had been dogging them all day were taking a momentary respite from terrorizing them, or they weren't interested in Sam, for a minute later he heard Baby start up and Sam peel down the gravel and dirt driveway without incident.
"I have to say," said Bela, her voice brittle and weak. "I didn't think it would end like this."
She fingered the chain around her neck, and Dean could see her skin was red and raw where the chain cut into her. He'd made a Lord of the Rings joke earlier, but seeing her look alarmingly like Frodo at the end of Return of the King completely took the humor out of it now.
"Hey, it's not over yet, sweetheart," he assured her.
"Isn't it?" she countered with a slight raise of her eyebrow, a ghost of the superior expression she usually wore.
He leveled his gaze at her. "I don't see a fat lady."
She smiled at that, and he felt a little better at the sight. The idea of her giving up, of all people, was very unsettling. He wasn't going to let her.
"Dean…" she began, unsure. He waited patiently. When she tried again, her voice was only slightly less shaky. "Dean, I… I wanted you to know – "
But whatever it was, he never got the chance to hear. At that moment, something massive and shadowy came crashing through the living room window. Bela screamed and ducked for cover as Dean leapt to his feet and started firing. The salt rounds exploded harmlessly on the thing's chest-area, and it dove over Dean's head to attack Bela. It slashed with big, shadowy claws and Bela screamed as it ripped through her arm.
Dean flipped his gun and used it like a baseball bat, colliding into the creature with bone-jarring force. It shrieked and flew towards the kitchen, spinning and flailing. Dean wasted no time in grabbing Bela's arm and hauling her to her feet. They dashed to the bedroom and Dean slammed the door behind them. He shoved the dresser in front of the door and backed away fast, his heart pounding in his chest.
A quick glance around the room reminded him that he'd boarded up the small bedroom windows earlier when he was warding the cabin, so they were momentarily safe. One look at Bela, however, and he realized that safe was a relative term.
She huddled in the corner of the room, holding her injured and bleeding arm. Tears were making tracks down her cheeks and that damn amulet on her chest was pulsing gently with a weird sort of – Dean didn't know how to describe it – dark energy. He hurried to her and dropped beside her.
"I… I think… the fat lady is here," she sniffled.
Dean swallowed and wrapped his arm around Bela, careful not to touch her injuries. "Not yet," he said sternly. His gut twisted at the fear in her eyes. "Not by a long shot."
Her lip trembled. "I'm sorry," she cried. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she went limp in his arms.
"Bela? Hey, no, no – Bela." He shook her gently. She moaned quietly. "Don't do this now."
Sam, where are you.
"Bela," Dean tried again, and pressed his fingers to her neck – she still had a pulse.
The monsters were outside the cabin walls, outside the bedroom door. He could sense them descending, crowding, waiting. There were thumps on the roof, on the walls and boarded up windows. Howls and cries and wails could be heard in all directions.
"Damn it, woman," Dean whispered. He brushed his fingers over her cheek.
"Dean…" Her lips barely moved as she breathed his name.
Louder, he said, "Hey, don't die on me now, Bela. You hear me? Who's going to perpetually steal my crap if you die, huh?"
The amulet began to smoke and sizzle, and suddenly all Dean could picture was that poor sap he and Sammy found with the charred skin. Dean felt his heart jump into his throat, and he did the only thing he could think of, even if it was also possibly the stupidest thing he could think of.
He snatched the talisman from Bela's neck and though it scalded his hands for a moment, it cooled before he could think of releasing it. He let go of Bela and got up to shove the dresser out of his way. He threw open the door, burst out of the bedroom, dodging shadows, sprites, and things. He bolted out of the cabin, his arm up to shield himself from the creatures and spirits gathered. They snarled and shrieked but didn't attack him. For a moment, Dean thought his "plan" was about to go horribly wrong, and the beings would descend on Bela anyways.
He waved the amulet above his head. "Come and get it, bitches!" he shouted and took off into the woods.
The monsters comically turned almost in unison, and shot off after Dean and the cursed amulet.
Great, he thought, leaping over fallen logs. This was an excellent plan, Dean. Brilliant. What the hell do you think'll happen next? Damn it, why are you risking your life for her?
Something with massive claws snatched at his shirt and Dean tried to run faster.
God damn idiot. This is the worst plan in the history of plans.
A creature seized Dean's arm and though he shook it off, a dark shadow darted in front of his feet to trip him. He tumbled sideways into a tree, scraping his skin on the bark, and though he tried valiantly not to fall, he crashed to ground and got a mouthful of pine needles and dirt. He attempted to scramble to his feet, making it to his knees, before he was hit hard in the head with something solid and went down again.
Blinking the stars from his eyes, Dean flipped over and attempted to throw the amulet away, but his fist wouldn't open to release his grip on the chain. He jerked his arm and growled angrily. Instead, he tried waving the amulet at the variety of threats closing in on him, but they didn't seem bothered by it in the slightest. His hand passed right through the ghosts, and it knocked away a few sprites buzzing within range. The two enormous shadowy things with the claws kept coming.
He shimmied backwards and snatched up a large stick with his other hand, swinging it wildly at the creatures.
"Come on!" he shouted, though they needed no encouragement.
Then all at once, they descended on Dean like hungry lions on a zebra. He kicked and fought and flailed as they ripped and tore and bit at his clothes and skin. He could feel blood trailing down his face. His hand was burning – no, the chain was burning, and he still couldn't let go.
And was that howling? He couldn't be sure through the shrieking, screaming, and wailing all around him. Something slashed at his leg and it was the Hounds, he knew, and panic flooded his chest. The Hounds all over again...
He was dimly aware of his own voice, raw and ragged and crying out in pain. And he was pissed that he was about to die, and worse still, die for Bela. He never thought it would end quite like this.
And I never even took her up on that offer for sex...
From very far away, he heard his name, and his eyes flew open to see Sam, like a freaking knight in shining armour, slicing his way through the mass of creatures with his dagger in one hand and something bright white in the other. He dropped to Dean's side and brought the white thing down on the amulet. The jewel cracked and exploded, and the scream that burst out of it was deafening. The chain grew hotter still in Dean's hand but as he flinched away from the pain, his fingers finally released their hold.
Harsh light shot out from the howling talisman, and all the creatures began to wail too. Sam scrambled out of the way, hauling his brother with him. Then the amulet exploded and the boys shielded their eyes against the brilliance. A wave of hot air blasted past them, there was a distant boom, and then everything fell dead silent.
Dean cautiously opened his eyes to see a crater where the amulet had been, and no sign of any of the monsters that had been attacking him. He glanced at Sam who was panting and slumped against a tree. Dean cradled his burned hand, and tried not to move – there was no part of him that didn't hurt.
"How...?" he managed to ask.
Sam held up the white thing from before, which Dean could see more properly in the moonlight was a white ivory tusk.
Sam nodded and gulped air before replying. "Bobby called. Needed something pure – apparently ivory. Came back... as soon as I could." He wiped his glistening forehead with his arm. "Glad it worked." He smirked a little, repeating his words from earlier after the creepy black goo.
Dean glanced at his brother and almost laughed. "Yeah. Me too."
Dean could walk… kind of. He was bruised and battered, with large gashes on his ribs, arms, face and legs. He leaned heavily on Sam as they picked their way back through the woods towards the cabin. Bela's name was on the tip of Dean's tongue – he wanted to ask his brother if she was okay – but he dreaded one of the possible answers, so he stayed quiet.
When the cabin came in to view, he saw her silhouette perched on the front steps and let out his breath in a rush. If Sam noticed, he didn't comment.
The relief on Bela's face was unmistakeable when she spotted the boys limping out of the woods. She didn't even bother to hide it when they were closer either, and when she locked her eyes on Dean's, he felt a burst of unexpected warmth bloom in his chest.
"You alive?" he asked when he and Sam stood in front of her.
She nodded slowly, still not taking her eyes off him. Bela answered softly, "More or less. You?"
He almost shrugged but stopped when pain lanced through his shoulder. He exhaled as it passed. "More or less."
Her gaze was making him uncomfortable, so he swiftly moved them back into familiar territory. He looked away and cleared his throat.
"Thanks for this, by the way," he quipped sarcastically as he gestured down his front with his unburnt hand. "I haven't had a good thrashing in a while. I'd forgotten how it feels. So thank you."
Bela's usual mask was back faster than he could blink, after she briefly ducked her head as though she realized he'd seen past it a moment ago. He felt a pang of regret that he pushed her so quickly and effortlessly back to her regular state.
"Yes, well." She lifted her head and smiled only a little, careful not to aggravate her split lip. "Anytime." She got unsteadily to her feet, and Sam reached out with the arm not occupied with holding Dean to grasp Bela.
"Whoa, you okay?" asked Sam, his forehead creasing with worry.
"Tip top shape," Bela replied flippantly, but when she took a step towards the cabin, she stumbled and cried out.
Dean lunged to help her and paid for it as pain shot through his ribs and leg. He doubled over and moaned.
"Wow," said Sam, glancing between the bloody, bruised, ragged pair before him. "Inside, both of you, now."
"I'm fine," Dean wheezed.
"You're an idiot," Sam mumbled too low for his brother to hear.
Sam helped Dean and Bela hobble and limp into the cabin and settled them onto the couch. It was a very long hour while Sam tended to their respective injuries and bandaged them up. They whined and sniped as much at him as at each other, and twice Sam told them to can it, but the quiet never lasted long.
"I could've handled it, you know," said Bela after another Sam-induced period of silence.
"Right," Dean snorted. "It really looked like you were handling it. Basically unconscious with the amulet starting to burn a hole right through you."
"Well, and how did you handle it? Running off into the woods like that?" Bela sighed. "Dean, darling, what were you thinking?"
Is she accusing me of leaving her behind to die, or of saving her life? Dean wondered.
"I was thinking about – " you. He stopped just short of voicing the last word, and hastily amended his statement. "I wasn't thinking."
"A habit of yours, I imagine."
"'A habit of yours I imagine,'" Dean mimicked maturely. "How about 'thanks for saving my damn life?'"
"Yes, and how much do I owe you for that?" Bela smiled sweetly, then winced and touched her finger to her sore lip.
Money. Of course she reverts to money.
Dean growled with frustration. "More than you're willing to give me, how about tha – ow, watch it, Sammy!"
Bela, already bandaged up, rolled her eyes. "Oh, really, don't be such a baby. It's just a few flesh wounds."
It wasn't, and they both knew it. She was – as usual – simply trying to annoy him (and, as usual, succeeding with very little effort). He was really starting to wonder why he'd saved her in the first place. Then again, and he was probably imagining it, but he thought he detected a certain note of affection in her tone that he hadn't noticed before.
"Really?" Dean shook his head at her. "A few flesh wounds? I got completely pummeled and ripped apart by your monsters. 'Don't be a baby' is all you've got for me?"
How about thank you, you saved me, my hero… (Okay, he admitted she would probably never say that. But a guy could hope.)
"Of course, yes, my monsters," said Bela irritably. "As if I brought them down on you on purpose."
"Didn't you?" Dean retorted and was glad she seemed a little annoyed now, too. Score one for him.
"I don't recall actually asking for your help, you know," she said haughtily.
Right, sweetheart, you could've dealt with all that all by your lonesome.
"You stole our box and then came back with it," said Dean. "What were we supposed – "
"For love of all that is good," Sam cut in sharply. "Shut the hell up!"
He exhaled in a rush and Dean got the distinct impression that Sam was seriously considering using a tranquilizer on them. Dean and Bela lapsed into a moody, exhausted silence.
He stole a few glances at her when she wasn't paying attention. All right, so maybe he was kinda glad she was alive, despite her acting like her usual self. In fact, he thought he was actually a lot more than just kinda glad – but he shoved those thoughts away hard and fast with the ease of plenty of practice, and kept them very much to himself.
He didn't care about her – he didn't. He was simply doing his job. He didn't care about her... not even a little bit. (And maybe he'd never be as good a liar as Bela was, but Dean was very good at lying to himself.)
When Sam was finished patching them up, he helped them to their wobbly feet. He got them each a glass of water and a handful of pain meds from the medicine cabinet. The short-lived quiet was swiftly broken when Dean and Bela realized they'd be sharing the one and only bed.
"No way in hell," Dean snapped. "Not with her."
"I don't care how injured he is, he can take the floor," Bela said at the same time.
"There's only one bed," Sam shouted above their protests, exasperated. "And you both need it. You'll survive."
The other two were just exhausted enough that they didn't fight too much harder, past mumbled snarky comments back and forth. Sam ignored the moaning and complaining about how much they were hurting as they each climbed onto the bed, while he retrieved another set of blankets from the closet so they wouldn't have to share the covers.
"She'll probably hog them all anyways," Dean grumbled, downing the pills Sam had given him.
Bela stuck her tongue out at him and followed suit with the meds in her hand, tossing them all back in one gulp.
"Just go to sleep," Sam implored them both wearily. He was visibly drained, but stood sentinel at the end of the bed until both Dean and Bela were actually laying down, pulling blankets over themselves. He crossed the room and flipped off the light before exiting and shutting the door behind him.
Dean shifted carefully to make himself comfortable on the squishy bed, trying not to aggravate his injuries.
"I hope you don't snore," she said.
"Shut up," he replied, but without heat. He yawned wide and was surprised by how hazy he felt already. It took another moment to catch on. "Sonofabitch," he muttered.
"Bollocks," Bela groaned. "He gave us a bit of tranquilizer after all, didn't he?" she added, and he could hear the smile in her voice.
Dean couldn't help laughing. So he hadn't been the only one to correctly interpret Sam's frowny face earlier.
"Yeah, pretty sure he did." He grinned in the dark.
"Clever boy," Bela murmured.
Dean turned onto his back and hissed through his teeth as his body protested – the meds clearly hadn't quite kicked in yet, though whatever Sam had given him to force him to sleep certainly was doing its work. His limbs felt sluggish and dull. His burned hand was gently throbbing.
"Damn it… you're dangerous to my health, woman," he mumbled. He could feel sleep tugging at him.
"Mm," she acknowledged softly, slipping away herself. She shifted a little bit closer to him. "At least..." she yawned. "At least you didn't get poisoned this time."
"That'sss… true…" Dean slurred.
"I'm… glad…" Bela whispered, so quietly he wasn't entirely sure he heard her.
Under the blankets he thought he felt her hand slide into his, and he would have smiled, but he was too close to sleep to properly react. His last thought was that he was undecided if in the morning he would tease her for taking advantage of him in his weakened state, or whether he wouldn't say anything at all.