Two weeks after D-day
Bobby's place
Fort Pierre, SD

Grace had convinced him to stay, to recover from his ordeal before heading out again, and after arriving in Fort Pierre, Dean had actually seen the sense in it. Besides, he had no idea where to start looking for Sam, so he waited and hoped that someone might have seen something.

Bobby had spread the word that he was looking for Sam and sometimes the phones still worked. Now and again calls came in. Now and again even some of the radio stations in the area were able to broadcast. But most of the time all was quiet and dead.

The first report came in two weeks after D-day. Bobby got a call from a friend and said friend had nothing but bad news. Dean didn't hear the serious end of the conversation, only Bobby's more and more subdued response to it, and it worried him sick until Bobby hung up and turned back to face him. "It's not good," he said. He looked uncomfortable, edgy.

"What? They found Sam?" Dean asked, reading other things into Bobby's discomfort than what might actually be there.

"In a sense. Someone saw him." Bobby sighed and scrubbed a hand over his mouth, his gaze wandering. "He killed someone," he added quietly.

Dean stared at him. "What?" All he could think of doing was to shake his head. "No, if Sam killed someone, they were possessed or something."

"No, Dean, he killed an innocent woman," Bobby corrected him and met his gaze dead on. "With his bare hands."

The implications of Bobby's words made him shudder inside. It couldn't be true. He couldn't believe this. "No," he said and shook his head in denial. "No, it can't be true. It's a lie. Someone's making up crap about him. He wouldn't do that."

"Dean, this guy ... he's a reliable source. He doesn't make things up," Bobby tried, but he sounded tentative, hesitant, as if he didn't really believe it either.

"I don't give a shit if he's as holy as Jesus Christ, Bobby. My brother doesn't kill people just for the hell of it," he snapped, well aware that he shouldn't take his mounting frustration out on his friend, yet utterly incapable of stopping himself right now. "Maybe he's possessed. Maybe they found a way around the tattoo."

Bobby eyed him for a moment, then sighed lightly. "Maybe," he agreed. "Yeah, maybe."

Dean nodded, somewhat mollified by that possibility. It wasn't ideal, but at least it would mean that it wasn't Sam doing this either. "Yeah, that must be it. 'Cause I know Sam. He wouldn't. He can't. It's not who he is. He ..." He stopped, shook his head again. No way would he ever believe something like this about Sam. He couldn't believe it. Dad couldn't be right about this. No way.

"You're probably right," Bobby said with a tired grimace, then glanced over at the doorway where Grace was standing, arms folded over her chest, her eyes locked on Dean.

He turned to face her, desperate for her to believe that Sam wasn't capable of something like this. "He's not, you know. He wouldn't do that. Not Sam," he insisted.

Grace smiled vaguely and nodded. "I know. I wouldn't believe that even for a second," she assured him, but he wasn't entirely sure if she was just agreeing to keep him calm or if she really believed it.

It had been two weeks since that night when his time had run out and the demon had come for him and Sam had somehow stopped it. Two weeks since he had seen his brother. And the first indication he got of Sam's whereabouts were vicious rumors? He made a face, then focused on Bobby again. "Where did they see him?" he asked.

"In Maine," Bobby said.

Dean nodded lightly. "Right, so I'm heading to Maine," he said and turned to leave the room.

But Bobby grabbed his arm, stopping Dean dead in his tracks, his expression incredulous. "Are you out of your mind?" he demanded. "You can't go up against this sort of thing on your own. Even though Sam may not be responsible for whatever happened, Dean, he's said to be surrounded by demons. There's no way in hell that you can get close enough to him to exorcize him."

Dean stared back, righteous anger rising in him that he knew he shouldn't take out on Bobby. "Yeah, well, that's my brother out there, Bobby. And one way or another, I'm getting him back. I don't care what it takes."

"You can't do this alone," Bobby persisted.

"Then who do you suggest I do it with, Bobby, huh?" he shot back and pulled his arm out of Bobby's grip. "Grace, who has no experience hunting demons at all?" he pressed on and waved a hand toward his aunt. "Some hunter I've never met before who's just as likely to shoot Sam than stop to ask questions?"

"I'll go with you," Bobby said, obviously realizing that Dean was not going to let this slide right now.

"No, you won't," Dean countered tightly. "You're gonna stay right here and make sure that Grace is safe. I brought her here because she's not safe out there on her own. She doesn't know enough about this to protect herself properly."

"And yet I somehow managed to survive in a ghost town for a little over a month," Grace said quietly.

"After it had happened, Grace. You didn't survive the event that took place before you got back," Dean growled without ever taking his eyes off Bobby. "And this isn't up for discussion. You're not coming because someone's gotta look after her. And I'm not teaming up with someone I don't know. Not in something like this."

Bobby stared at him with burning eyes. "You're gonna get yourself killed, Dean," he said quietly.

"Not while there's still a chance to save my brother," he countered angrily and stalked out of the room. It was only when he was halfway up the stairs that he stopped short, one hand on the banister, while his gaze slid down to his right leg. Two weeks and his leg no longer hurt. "Son of a bitch," he whispered, then climbed the rest of the steps to get his stuff together. The world had become a darker place and he was heading out into it alone. And something told him that it would be a while before this whole thing came to a head. Whatever the outcome, though, he aimed at freeing his brother from whatever possessed him and he didn't care about much else along the way.

***

Location unknown

The wound was infected. Weakened as he was from too little food and too much stress, the infection set in overnight and by the morning, he could barley move his left arm without causing himself pain.

The tiny bathroom of the cabin provided some aide, but not much. There was no water in the tabs, but there were plenty of towels. The first aid kit contained just enough for one, maybe two thorough cleanings of the gaping hole in his shoulder, but then he would have to ask for more supplies and he wasn't too sure at this point that Ruby would provide the help he needed.

With a grimace, he peeled the puss-soaked gauze pad off and sneered at the infected wound. It hurt, yes, but his pride hurt more. And he feared what the removal of the sigil meant for his continued existence. Was that what she was after? To make sure that he could be possessed?

"Looks bad."

He didn't start at the sound of her voice. He merely closed his eyes and let the gauze pad drop into the sink. It took him a moment to work up the necessary anger to actually face her, but then he turned around and glared at her the best he had learned. "And whose fault is that?" he snarled.

"Watch the attitude, bozo," she snapped back. "Piss me off enough and your brother can rot in Hell for the rest of eternity."

The prickling sensation of the rising power petered out and vanished in one foul blow. She really knew how to hit him where it hurt even when she wasn't laying a hand on him. He let his shoulders slump and for a brief moment took comfort in the pain from the wound. Then he turned back to the sink, grabbed the peroxide and set about cleaning it with as much discomfort as he could stomach right now. It wasn't much in the grand scheme of things, but it centered him. "You can save him, can't you?" he nearly whispered.

"Things are coming together. All you need is patience right now," she said, her tone oddly soft. "This can't be hurried or it won't work."

He wanted to yell at her. Hell, he wanted shoot her in the damned head and be done with her. But he knew that his chances of survival would be cut down to non-existent if Ruby's protection vanished. She was the only thing standing between him and twenty-odd demons set on tearing him apart. "Isn't there anything you can do to speed it up?" he asked, appalled at how fragile he sounded right now.

"What did I just say?" she growled. "You have to be patient."

That was something he used to be good at, patience. But not so much anymore. With every passing day, his brother's soul suffered in Hell, and it tore him up inside. He couldn't think of much else, couldn't focus on much else. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat, forced the need to cry down with a vengeance and just stared aimlessly down into the sink.

Ruby suddenly grabbed his arm, turned him and pushed him down on the toilet. Then she roughly cleaned out the wound and bandaged it. "You are so freaking feeble, you know that?" she snarled, obviously annoyed with him right now.

He squared his jaw and took it without making a sound, but he mostly felt like slugging her for being so damned rough. She kept reminding him that he was in the big league now and that he would have to shape up, but shape up for what? Why was it so important to her that the other demons accepted him?

"You want me to shape up?" he pressed out through clenched teeth and glared up at her. "Then give me something decent to eat. I'm starving to death here. I can't live on one burger every third day."

Her expression should probably have tightened at that, but it didn't. All she did was stand there and glare at him. Then she snorted, turned on her heel and marched out of there.

Sam flinched when the door to the cabin slammed hard enough to rattle it in its frame. She was all kinds of pissed right now and he had no doubt that he was going to pay for that at some point. If there was one thing he had learned about Ruby by now then it was that she carried a grudge like nobody's business. Sometimes she lashed out immediately, sometimes she waited a few hours. This was one of the latter sometimes, it would seem.

Carefully, he pressed his right palm against the painful wound and squeezed his lids shut against the surging agony. He had nothing but his jeans and boots to wear at this point.

Since there was nothing much for him to do other than sit around and wait for Ruby to grace him with her presence, he got off the toilet and went back to bed. Hunger gnawed at his guts and his shoulder kept throbbing with a steady pulse of its own and all he wanted was for this to end.

***

One month after D-day

For the first week Dean just drove around. After hitting Maine and finding that whatever had happened there was long gone, he stayed one night in Bangor, then moved out again. Someone had indicated that this group of demons that Sam was said to be with had moved to the South. So he headed South, but found no further trail of them.

After another week, the trail was stone cold. There was no sign of the specific demonic activity he was looking for, and – predictably – he ended up in a bar in Salisbury, Delaware. All the bigger cities were still in working order and fully populated. Everybody he bothered to talk to had their own take on what was going on out there and the Government broadcasts that could be received on occasion offered nothing conclusive. It stretched from a viral outbreak of a mutated strain of the flu that drove people nuts to terrorist attacks, but Dean knew that none of these explanations were true.

It would seem that the demons raiding the land now were hellbent on hiding their agenda and not giving anyone any reason to seek refuge in God. Dean severely doubted it would make a difference if they did, but faith had been known to move mountains and it wouldn't do that people banded together under the banner of Christianity or some other odd religion and grew stronger on that account. He could completely follow the demon agenda on that front.

For whatever reason, there had been no attacks on towns with more than five thousand people, but even those towns had emptied of their inhabitants, who had opted to move into the bigger cities. And builders were quick to profit from such notions. Every bigger town he got to was surrounded by shake-n-bake building projects now.

It had been one month now since Sam had disappeared and in that time, Dean had not seen nor heard any hell hounds. It would seem that Sam, in a last desperate attempt, had managed to save Dean from Hell. But if it had meant that he had lost himself to whatever dark fate Azazel had had in store for him, then it was definitely not worth it. Not for Dean, anyway.

The bar was dingy and, despite the crowd, fairly quiet. He had withdrawn to a booth in the back where he had his back to the wall and a full view of the room. A bottle of Jacks was sitting in front of him with a half-full glass next to it and for the past hour he had taken one sip of the drink while he watched the room and listened to spread-out conversations. His intention had been to tie one on and maybe get in a fight just to feel like he was still alive. But at this point, he couldn't be bothered to do either. To get riled up enough to get in a fight, he would have to get drunk. To get drunk he would have to actually drink at least a quarter of the bottle he had already paid for. But the whiskey didn't taste good tonight, so he just sat there and listened.

"... it was the damndest thing. You should have seen him. I mean, man, talk about a bad temper. And then his eyes. I don't know if it were colored contacts or some other shit like that, but it freaked me out ..."

"... and Marvin said he saw this guy being pinned to the wall without anyone touching him. I really thought he was having a psychotic break or something. And then, the other night, before we left home, I saw it happen to a neighbor. It totally scared the crap out of me ..."

"... this group of men and women, all with those black eyes. It was really creepy. And Andrew said he'd seen them before and that they kill people ..."

Dean slowly turned the glass between his fingers and watched the amber liquid swirl lazily along while snippets of conversations, all demon-related, drifted to him from the other tables and the bar. People were talking quietly. Nobody was rowdy. There were no fights, no drunken hitting on others. A few guys were playing pool in the back, but they didn't seem like they were enjoying themselves. The world had become a darker place alright.

What baffled him to some extent was that none of the conversations he had overheard so far even brushed close to the supernatural being involved. It was all about illness and freakish flues and something terrorists had dropped in the water supply. But not one explanation had been that Hell was rising and humanity was coming to an end. And it made him wonder. Sam had indicated that Ruby had mentioned that this wasn't Armageddon. But if it wasn't, then what the hell was going on out there? What other explanation was there?

Eventually, he decided to ditch the bar, find a room for the night and get some sleep. He grabbed the bottle on the way out, but left the glass, and headed out into the night. Salisbury was big enough to be fairly safe. The cops did their job and kept an eye on the citizens, but Dean knew for a fact that they wouldn't know what hit them if the demons decided to attack. They wouldn't know how to fight an enemy like that.

With a heartfelt sigh, he headed toward the Impala and got behind the wheel. Some towns had tried to establish a curfew, which hadn't helped at all. Most towns just kept going through the motions. People got up and got to work in the morning. Everybody just kept on going like this was just a temporary setback. But one thing he had noticed was that a lot of the good citizens of any given town were now armed to the teeth. Some were high-strung and likely to shoot someone for looking at them wrong, but the majority seemed fairly calm about it. And Dean couldn't help wondering if they would be so damned calm about it if they knew what was really out there.

***

Location unknown

Sam had lost count of the days. He had no clue how long he had been stuck among the demons, how long ago it had been that he had singlehandedly sent his brother to Hell.

Ruby had turned things around a little. She provided him with food on a daily basis and had even found him some clothes as well. She made an effort some days to be nice – or at least what he figured she thought was nice – but most days she was a bitch and not afraid to show it.

The wound on his shoulder had healed up after she started feeding him properly and the fever that had accompanied the infection had withdrawn fairly quickly. She hadn't shown much consideration for his pain, though. Not that he had really expected her to.

Most days, he spent sitting on the floor in a corner of the cabin, as far away from the door as he could get, while he brooded when alone and watched Ruby with apprehension when he wasn't. A few times, one of the other demons turned up, either to talk to Ruby about something or to take stabs at Sam. Most of those stabs were verbal and he tuned them out. But twice now one of the others had burst into the cabin while he had been alone and he had ended up pinned to the wall while feeling his ribs give under the relentless pressure. One Ruby had killed and one she had settled for throwing out. Both times she had actually blamed Sam for the way things had turned out and left him alone for quite a few hours after the event. Not that he really minded it when she was gone.

Because of lack of movement, he became lethargic after a while, and that only fed Ruby's annoyance. And she took that out on him with a vengeance. He had bruises and cuts just about everywhere from her ministrations and he was getting thoroughly fed up with it all. But as long as she dangled Dean's salvation in front of him, he didn't dare to start an uprising that might end up getting him killed or worse.

Somehow, they had gotten the water working in the cabin again, which at least gave him an amply supply of liquid and the chance to shower, but that was the extent of what he bothered to do. He slept as much as he could stand and didn't do much else when he was awake than sit and stare. And apparently Ruby had reached the end of the line on that behavior. "Get up," she snapped when she stepped into the cabin and slammed the door behind her.

"What for?" he muttered into his knees, which he had pulled up and wrapped his arms around.

"You're pissing me off. Get up," she demanded.

"Fuck you," he muttered and didn't even bother to look up at her. He pushed her sometimes and he knew where this was heading, but he didn't really care right now.

Before he could do anything to counteract it, she had grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked him up, then used her superior strength to throw him across the room where he collided hard with the wall. "I said, get up!" she snapped.

He got up on his hands and knees and for a long moment just remained that way. Then he raised his head and glared at her. "And I said FUCK YOU!" he countered angrily, climbed to his feet and straightened his back. Even on a bad day he towered over her and something in his at present twisted logic told him that it had to make a difference. Besides, wasn't he imbued with demonic powers as well? "GET OFF MY FUCKING CASE!" he yelled at her, the anger rising blistering hot inside him like a tidal wave of magma.

The anger was evident in her expression as well and when she took one step forward and raised a hand, obviously intending to hurt him again, he snapped. It was a subconscious thing, really. He was pissed off and tired and hurting and grieving and she wouldn't leave him alone long enough for it to matter. So he lashed out and hammered her against the far wall with enough force to put a dent in the wooden barrier, so much so that one of the boards cracked. And it was the sound of the breaking wood more than anything that cooled him down immediately.

He took a step back, bumped into the opposite wall and just stood there and stared at her. She picked herself up from the floor, straightened her clothes, then looked up to meet his eyes. "That's what I'm talking about," she said and smiled. "You're going to be incredibly powerful if you just let it out. Don't you see that yet?"

He swallowed, wished he could merge with the wall behind him, and wondered what it would take for him to get out of here. But still there was that deal about Dean. As long as there was even a fraction of a chance that Ruby might have the answer to save Dean from Hell, Sam was unwilling to do anything to better his own circumstances. In part, he believed he deserved this, and there was nobody around to disagree with him. "I'm not ... opening up to this."

Her expression changed radically from the slightly amused one to blistering angry. She slashed one hand through the air in an aggressive motion, which slammed him full force into the wall and nearly drove him through it to boot. "You will open up to it or, so help me, I'm going to personally drag your sorry ass into Hell and hang you on the same fucking wall your brother's stuck to," she snarled and made a jabbing motion with one hand which generally made him feel like she had hammered a baseball bat into his guts.

The wall behind him creaked and he couldn't retain a groan of agony. The pressure increased incrementally with the fire in her eyes, the blackness which took over and revealed her true essence, and nothing he did right now could counteract her anger. Mainly because he wasn't angry, he was scared. And then she suddenly let go of him and he crashed to the floor, only barely preventing a painful collision with the floorboards.

"Get your fucking act together. You're all alone now. Your brother is burning in Hell. And there is no way I will help you get him out if you don't pull yourself together and get a move on," she snarled, then left the cabin again.

For a long moment, he stayed on the floor, fighting the fear, fighting the sorrow, and then he slowly pushed up on his hands and knees and groaned at the stabbing pain from his chest. Her actions had obviously cracked a rib. "Shit," he muttered and wrapped an arm over his chest while carefully getting back to his feet. If he was going to find a way to get Dean out of Hell, he couldn't let her do this again. He would have to give her something to keep her docile. If he had pushed her only one step further right now, she would have killed him.

***

One week later

Dean hit Dallas in the middle of the night and wasn't surprised to find the streets devoid of people. A few cop-cars were cruising around, but that was about it. He couldn't remember ever having seen a city this big being that quiet, though. It was eerie.

His intention was to find a motel somewhere, but everything was full and nobody opened doors. Eventually, he had to settle for sleeping in the car until the morning. People were getting progressively more paranoid and arriving anywhere after dark was not the best idea.

Radios seemed to work within certain areas, but not others and cell phones had very motley coverage. He had found himself dialing Sam's number more often than before, but every time he either got static or voicemail. He had sporadically been able to get through to Bobby to let him and Grace know that he was okay, but over the last week, even that connection had been severed and he was starting to think it might be an idea to make his way back to South Dakota just to check up on them.

He stretched out on the front seat, bundled a jacket beneath his head and just lay there and listened to the ticking of the cooling engine. Despite being tired, he figured he wasn't going to get much sleep this night. No matter how much he loved his car, it wasn't the safest place to be. Granted, a building wasn't any safer, but it was easier to salt the openings in a motel room than try and safeguard the car.

He shifted his attention out the windshield to the night sky looming above him and just stared at the star studded darkness for a good long time. Whatever was going on out there, the spread had slowed down. But there were demons on the loose out there, a lot of them, and he had the distinct impression that their numbers were increasing rather than decreasing. There just weren't enough hunters to go around.

That he fell asleep at some point while staring at the sky was evident since he suddenly jerked awake again and nearly managed to fall off the damned seat in the process. But his senses went from drowsy to high alert in a split second flat because he couldn't immediately determine what had woken him up. With his heart stuck in his throat, he grabbed onto the back of the seat and hauled himself up. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn't just dark outside, it was pitch black.

He reached up for the dome light and switched it on. The light flickered and strobed for a moment, then died again. "Son of a bitch," he whispered and sat up fully while glancing around at all the windows. It was like someone had painted all the windows black while he had been sleeping, but on closer inspection, the blackness out there moved. Demons, and lots of them if the compactness of the darkness outside was anything to go by.

Disconcerted, he dug his lighter out of one pocket and flicked it on only to realize that black smoke was oozing in under the driver side door. He scurried backward on the seat until he bumped into the passenger side door while the black smoke rose up in front of him. All he could focus on right then was that now he would find out if that damned sigil on his shoulder was worth the money they'd paid for it. "Looks like the freaks come out at night, huh?" he snarled.

The smoke darted forward, then stopped an inch from his face. He had pushed as far back as he could get and the only path that remained was to open the door and that really wasn't going to happen. One demon he might be able to fend off, but all that stuff out there might be more than one measly sigil could handle.

Despite all his intentions of the opposite, his hand holding the lighter aloft was shivering while the black cloud shifted back and forth, almost seeming to search for a way in. He stared at it, never took his eyes off it, and slowly the heart-thudding fear transformed into anger. "Get the hell out of my car, bitch," he finally snarled at it.

The smoke drew back, then suddenly rushed forward and enveloped him completely. He ripped both arms up to cover his face and realized that he'd never experienced the 'feel' of a demon's essence before. It was ice cold, like he was being wrapped in icy fog and it made him shiver and chilled him to the bone.

And then the chill dissipated again. Slowly, he lowered his arms and squinted into the darkness. The lighter had dropped out of his hand and hit the floor, extinguishing the flame, and the car was once again pitch black. But only for a few more moments. When he reached down to grope for the lighter, the light of the stars and the nearby street lamps began seeping through while the darkness enveloping the Impala disappeared.

For a long moment he just sat there, uncertain of how to respond to this. It would seem that the sigil worked then, which was definitely beneficial in these dangerous times. But it also instilled a fear in him he hadn't felt before. He needed to get his ass back to South Dakota and fast. Something told him there was trouble brewing, now more than ever.

Without further ado, he slipped behind the wheel, revved the engine and pulled out on the road. He would sleep along the way, but the faster he got back to Bobby's, the better.

***