Notes: Set pre-series, Bela is 18. Deals with Bela's disturbing past briefly. For shampayn as a pinch hitter for spn_fs_exchange - I hope I got enough of the prompts in here! Thank you thunder_nari for the fantastic beta!
Summary: Everyone wants something. What Ruby wants only Bela can get, and what Bela wants is money. But working together, do either of them know what they're getting into?
The days are darker than ever despite the bright Boston summer. Bela spends most of them in her rented room that overlooks busy streets and empty faces and she waits.
That's all she can do here. That's all she's been doing since she was fourteen. Four years of watching the clock cast the minutes away and watching the calendar destroy the rest of her limited days.
She doesn't regret what she did for a single one of those passing moments.
The job Bela found in this godforsaken city was a bust and she has very little money left and very few options. If she doesn't find some cash in the next week she'll be living on the streets.
Bela rubs her bare arms and stares out of the window, seeing but not noticing the bland scenery. Her mind is on the future; the only other option is the past, and that is a place Bela won't go. Whatever is waiting for her in the next six years and beyond, it will be better than that. Few things in Bela's life are so certain.
For a moment, Bela is sure there's someone watching her. The cold touch of fear makes her angry and she rests her hand on the gun beneath her jacket but, though she searches the street through the grimy window, there's no one there. No one that could be paying even the smallest amount of attention to her and why would they be? There's no one after Bela yet. Not on this side of the pond.
Evening is drawing in so Bela shuts the blinds, adjusting her makeup in the flickering light of the bathroom. Her stomach rumbles and she needs food. A little shop-lifting will get her through the next day. It's pretty low work when she could be pulling diamonds from safes but for now, it'll do.
There's a blonde woman about Bela's age lounging against the wall outside the door with a cigarette between slender manicured fingers. Bela glances her way but walks swiftly on, zipping up her jacket against the evening breeze. She has no interest in those her own age; even as a child she had nothing in common with them and now the rift is even greater. It doesn't matter that the young woman is watching her, that Bela can feel the eyes on her back. To her rumbling stomach it's unimportant.
Behind her, the girl smirks.
Bela must be getting paranoid.
It's the only explanation. No one knows where she is and even less would care outside of England. She has nothing of value with her and she knows it's been too long between showers, her recent lacklustre attitude swinging through to her appearance. No one could be watching her for looks alone. Yet despite all of that, despite all the logic she parades through her sluggish mind, she can't stop looking over her shoulder as she steps through to the warmth of the nearby coffee shop.
"I need to get more sleep," Bela says when she drops her purse a second time. She flashes a tight smile but the sweet-faced barista isn't interested, already moving onto the next customer. Bela is learning to blend in more than she would like. The coffee isn't worth the bother, too bitter and burnt, but Bela finds a table and drinks it anyway.
Something snags at Bela's attention halfway through the substandard drink. She turns but there's no one else in the room besides the barista, an old silent couple, and a blonde girl talking quietly on her phone. The gently insidious music swells and Bela turns back in her seat, fingers clinging to the warmth of the coffee cup. She catches her reflection in the window and grimaces. Her skin is blotchy and there are bags under her eyes. Her hair is tied back too tight and her lips are pale and dry.
How disappointed Father would be.
Still, Hell has swallowed him up, dragged him down to where he belongs. He has made it next to impossible to get his money but Bela wouldn't touch his ill-gotten gains even if she could. She will fight her way through the next six years (the last six years, a helpful voice in her mind supplies) and as soon as she finds a lucrative job her foray into the great unwashed masses will be as forgotten as the rest of her past.
"What are you smiling at?"
Bela's own reflection becomes uninteresting but she doesn't lift her eyes; she can see the sharp features of this striking blonde woman clearly enough in the frosted glass. "I was thinking," she says, "how nice it would be to have some peace and quiet."
Despite the tone the blonde woman sits down and holds out her hand. "Hey. I'm Ruby. You're not from round here."
"What gave you the first clue?" Bela asks. She doesn't shake the outstretched hand.
"You're supposed to tell me your name," Ruby says in what Bela supposes is meant to be a helpful tone. Mostly it is nothing but irritating and insincere.
"I'm not one for the usual social conventions," she replies. When Ruby raises her eyebrows and leans back in the chair looking expectant, Bela sighs. Her name is far enough from the truth not to be a risk anyway. "Bela. But I'm really not looking for –"
"How about I show you around this place?" Ruby says. Apparently this girl has absolutely no sense of when to stop, even when Bela looks out of the window and ignores her. "I haven't been here long but I know a few things."
The smile is too bright, the tone too weightless. Bela leans forward, hands arched together on the table, eyes still averted. "What exactly is it you want? And don't bother saying nothing. Everyone wants something."
Ruby shrugs. "I want a lot of things. Acknowledgement of my genius from my boss. A bowl of fries. Mostly though, I want to see you stop looking like someone killed your puppy."
Bela can't help it; she stares at Ruby. It's easier to stare down an invasive stranger than let her mind jump back to memories still raw, still too close to the surface. Too close for coincidence and Bela grows curious. She smiles like a shark; it's more dignified than losing her temper in a coffee shop. "Well, that depends on what exactly you have in mind."
It turns out that what Ruby knows best is making a fool out of Bela.
Bela folds her arms over her stupid dress, the black one she'd pulled out the back of her car and pressed beneath her mattress all day to flatten the creases, and wishes she was back in England. It wasn't a place she had particularly liked even as a child, but at least she had never been stood up by an absolute stranger who she shouldn't have bothered listening to in the first place –
"Hey, sugar," Ruby says, cutting off Bela's grumpy internal monologue. "Sorry I'm late. Got held up with work." She wiggled her eyebrows exaggeratedly. "You look good."
"Don't try to flatter me," Bela says though it works enough to soften her annoyance and the creases on her brow. "What do you do?"
"My boss has me looking for something important for his business," Ruby replies. "Something that will cause no end of trouble for his rivals. You wanna go inside? It's pretty cold out here now."
Bela pretends she hasn't noticed despite shivering for the past fifteen minutes and nods. The music sneaks tendrils through the silence as they walk closer to the door of the converted warehouse and when Ruby opens the door, it explodes. Bela grimaces; the music is grating and shapeless, a mass of beats and screeches that don't work together in the slightest, but Ruby's already perking up and bopping her head so Bela doesn't say anything. As if Ruby could hear her if she did.
"Why here?" Bela asks once they find the bar, where they’re pressed together close enough they’re standing shoulder to hip. “What's so special about this place?"
"Nothing. I just like it." Ruby waves to the barmaid who winks from across the bar and, half a minute later, ignores the crowd around them and approaches them with an impossibly wide grin.
"Hey, sweetheart," she says, pulling her long black hair back into a ponytail as she talks. "Long time no see. Who's your friend?"
Bela attempts to take no notice of the absolutely predatory look the barmaid turns on her but makes careful note of it. "My name's Bela."
"She's going to help me out with a little job," Ruby says to the barmaid though her eyes are on Bela.
Bela raises an eyebrow. "That's news to me."
"I haven't gotten around to asking you yet," Ruby says and ignores the scowl that settles into Bela's face. The barmaid grins and Ruby turns to her. "Whiskey, straight up. Bela?"
"The same," Bela says. She doesn't think she can trust the wine in this place and her mind is on everything but alcohol.
The drinks come quickly and they stay by the bar, with Ruby perching on the awkwardly shaped stool. Bela prefers to stand. "Now, you're going to tell me what you were just talking about."
"I know who you are," Ruby replies. She turns the crystalline glass and eyes Bela defiantly. "I know where you come from and more importantly I know what you do."
It has to be a bluff, Bela thinks. It has to be. There's no one in this country that would care who she is and there's no reason for the English authorities to play about with a woman like Ruby when they could drag Bela in with much less fuss. "I doubt that," she says dryly and hopes her fast-beating pulse isn't too obvious. She swallows down the sharp whiskey and drops the glass to the bar with a clink but before she can make her exit Ruby's hand is on her wrist, grip tight.
You don't get far in life knowing what's in the dark without learning how to fight it. Bela knows the weak spots of a few dozen demons but people are just as volatile. Four years of obsessive training kicks in and she has Ruby flat on the floor, knee on her chest, before the woman can blink.
"Don't fucking touch me," Bela snaps. Ruby coughs as Bela drives her knee down harder to push herself to her feet.
Bela's heart doesn't stop pounding until she's found herself a new motel room far away from the first. Her only decent dress is ruined from the beer-stained floor and her head pounds but the whiskey warms her into sleep.
The local museum has a few things that might be interesting, might be worth selling on. Bela goes there early in the morning, long before anyone else thinks to visit, and spends hour after hour poring over every tiny artefact.
Bela stops at the same knife that’s fascinated her on previous visits to this place. It's encased in glass set with silver and the line of it is brutal, unforgiving. It's worthless, Bela's sure, but she likes it. Knives have never been her instrument of choice when guns get the job done from a much preferable distance but there's something unusual in its shine and it pulls her attention.
Nothing Bela has dug up suggests this knife is anything other than pretty. It's not worth stealing but if she finds something else she thinks she'll take it too.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
Bela is far too controlled to show a reaction outwardly but at Ruby's unexpected voice, her chest tightens. She smiles, lifts her head and eyes Ruby with predator's intent. "You don't learn your lessons easily I see."
"It's you who needs to learn not everyone is an enemy," Ruby replies. She is wearing a pale blue dress and her hair is caught in a matching bow; compared to the jeans and t-shirt of their first meeting she seems childlike and small. Bela wonders whether that's deliberate, whether Ruby thinks that will give her the advantage. She's wrong. Bela will hit anyone who gets in her way regardless of appearance.
"What are you doing here?" Bela asks instead of the dozen other questions congealing in her mind.
"We both want something. I mean, everyone wants something, but our desires are currently aligned," Ruby says. It sounds like innuendo. She leans close over the encased blade, hair falling to reveal the pale, vulnerable line of her neck. Bela watches it as Ruby speaks in her low murmur, barely audible beneath the hum of the air conditioning. "You, for example, want money. Any idiot can see that. You're used to the finer things but funds have run low since you left everything behind in England - including your name. It's understandable considering your past. Don't look at me like that, I'm not going to tell anyone where you are. I'm not even going to blackmail you with it. I'm going to offer you money."
"In exchange for what?" Bela asks, intrigued despite herself.
Ruby straightens back and folds her arms. "That knife. I need it but I can't get it for myself. I think that's what you're good at, isn't it Abby?"
Bela bristles. It's hard not to hit the smug smile but there's a job on the table, a job Bela was considering doing herself; guaranteed payment is merely a bonus. "If you can afford me I'll do it. With one condition."
Bela leans closer. She is impressed and a little disappointed when Ruby doesn't recoil, not even when she slides on her most menacing smile. "Don't ever call me that again."
It's easier than expected to steal from the museum, especially when the owners clearly weren't expecting humans to interested.
Bela learns quickly that she won't be dealing with the standard security measures. Though the alarm system is good, it won't be the main problem; a quick sweep of the building shows myriad spells and talismans protecting every entrance. Whoever owns this place knows about the darker world and keeps themselves well-guarded. Bela has picked up a few tricks in the difficult years behind her though and she soon pulls together a hex bag strong enough to walk undetected through the wards. It's amazing what a few cat bones and baby teeth will do.
The rest is easy. Bela feels at home with the rush of adrenalin and the dark rooms swallowing her up.
Six years and the darkness will swallow her completely.
Now is not the time; Bela shudders and makes herself focus. The knife is in the next room and she's running out of time before the wiry guard makes the next check. No time for thinking any further than five minutes into the future.
There are demon traps in the doorways that weren't there in the day, mapped out in black tape. Bela raises her eyebrows and steps over them carelessly. It'll be a long time before such wards catch her, though she knows the time will come.
The knife isn't well protected electronically. Bela plucks it from its defences easily, revealing a pattern of demon-repelling symbols spread out like lace across the bottom of the case. It may have little human value but it must be worth a lot to demons. No other exhibit has so much supernatural protection. She checks. Knowledge is almost always as valuable as whatever she is stealing.
The alarms wail into the night air the moment Bela is off-site. With the blade in her bag and a handful of ancient jewellery to deepen her purse Bela doesn't look back.
The four star hotel has clean sheets and the best shower Bela has seen since hitting this country. She spends forty minutes in it rinsing her skin clear of the last few weeks. It's bliss. It's the closest Bela will ever get to Heaven.
She’s meeting Ruby in two hours. Dawn. The end of the night and the end of Bela's poverty. Even if the bitch refuses to pay the rest, Bela can go far on the half she already holds.
With tight black trousers and a red jacket to die for, Bela feels human again. With expensive make up and perfectly coiffed hair, she feels like herself for the first time in months. Years, maybe.
This time, Bela holds the advantage. Ruby turns up ten minutes early with a slick silver case in her hand but Bela has been ready for twenty; with not a hair out of place she opens the door. The smile is polite, businesslike, and Ruby doesn't return it.
"Did you get it?"
"Did you doubt that I would?"
Ruby shrugs and strolls into the room. "Where is it?"
"Not anywhere you'll find it until you give me the rest of my money," Bela says. She lounges in the high-backed chair by the window, easing back into the supple leather. "I may be young but I'm not an idiot."
"You are if you try to cross me," Ruby says.
The transformation is incredible. With her sombre black clothes and serious tone, Ruby seems a different person entirely. Intimidating to anyone else, Bela's sure, but Bela has her means of protection.
"I'm doing nothing of the sort. Give me the money and I'll be out of your hair."
Ruby steps forward and then pauses, her face losing the calm determined stare; she tries again but her foot still hits the invisible barrier.
She looks up. Bela joins her, smiling beatifically at the dark, neat lines on the ceiling. A devil's trap.
"Oh, you little -"
"You might want to watch your tongue," Bela says. She takes in the coiled anger in Ruby's tense form and hopes her own hex bags hold out. They will, she knows. She's learnt from some of the best back in the homeland. "You think I don't know what you are?"
"You're smarter than you look," Ruby says. It doesn't sound like a compliment but Bela lets it pass graciously; insults are nothing but a grasp at power when it is already lost. "Let me out."
"When you hand over that money I'll consider it," Bela replies calmly. "And perhaps after you answer a few of my questions. How did you know who I am?"
"You have Crowley's mark all over you," Ruby says. "You know that, right? Any demon can see you've sold your soul and we can see the details, too. Your little secret branded as clear as day. It was hardly a stretch to find out what you've been doing since that day at the crossroads."
"Good to know," Bela replies, already planning how she can protect herself from such a blatant vulnerability. "I don't need to ask why you did it. Actually, I don't need to ask much at all. I guessed you are a demon when I saw all the symbols around the museum; only a hunter or a demon would want something so well protected. So here's the main part: what's it for?"
Ruby's eyes bleed into black as Bela lifts the knife from beneath the bed. "Under the bed? You hid it under the bed?"
"I knew you wouldn't get that far," Bela replies calmly. She turns the heavy blade in her hand and runs her fingertip across the blunt side. "It's pretty, I'll give you that. I don't intend to keep it from you but I want to know what it does."
"You won't get any more money from me for knowing. I've paid what it's worth."
"That's not the point."
Ruby folds her arms. "Then what is?"
"I want to know," Bela says simply. "Come on sweetheart, don't get your knickers in a twist. I'll give you the knife and I'll let you go just as soon as you tell me why you want it."
"It kills demons," Ruby says at last. "And you wanna see the prophecies linked to this thing. A thousand hunters would give their right arm for this and I need to keep it safe."
"You said something about your boss," Bela prompts but Ruby's lips stay shut. Oh well, there is always a limit to the information you can pry free and Bela hasn't fallen so far as to attempt the more persuasive methods of interrogation. Not yet. "Fine. Good enough I suppose." She steps up to the very edge of the devil's trap and grins. "Now, you understand I can't let you go right away. I've pissed you off and you've got an impressive weapon within reach," she says, tossing the knife onto the bed. It stands out starkly on the blood red covers.
"You're not leaving me here."
"That's where you're wrong. And you won't be able to follow me," Bela adds, "because I know how to keep myself hidden so save yourself the bother and forget about me. The devil's trap will fade in an hour; I'll be long gone by then."
Ruby leans as close as she can get, her breath warm on Bela's cheek. "You might want to think about making some friends, Bela. Hell's a lonely place."
"I'll find that out myself I'm sure," Bela says. An inch closer and they'll be kissing and maybe Bela wanted that before, maybe it was a possibility scratching at her mind but not now. The black eyes are all she sees. "Demons don't have friends. Throw the money out of the circle or I'll take the knife with me and you know I can."
It takes almost too long for Ruby to comply. Bela is already reaching for the hilt of the knife when the case hits the floor and Bela smiles so widely as she checks through the notes. All good, all unmarked. Another hundred thousand dollars to start her on her path. "Great. You made the right choice."
Bela puts the silver case inside her own larger black suitcase, tucking it between the few half-decent possessions she owns. She'll build herself up from scratch with this money. Patting the hex bag in her pocket she opens the door.
"See you around," Ruby says.
"I doubt that," Bela replies. She shuts the door too hard behind her.
There's a long way to go on Bela's twisted road. The car grumbles as it starts along the highway but Bela is smiling. Six years. There's so much she can do in six years. She'll find a way out of the deal, live like a princess for the rest of her long years. Six years feels infinite. Two thousand days stretched out for her taking, ripe and ready. Bela smiles for half a state, sure of her own invincibility.
Behind her, Ruby picks up the knife. Her boss is watching, she knows; burning and writhing but soon to be free. "Everything's going to plan."
Hell calms for a second at her words, but it's still hot on Bela's heels.