Location unknown

Breathing was a chore, one he almost couldn't convince himself to perform right now, but his body demanded air, so he struggled for it, fought for every breath he hauled into his over-exerted lungs. Ruby apparently thought that he would get angry enough to use his abilities if she hurt him badly enough, but she couldn't be more wrong. The weight on his chest grinding him into the floor didn't anger him. It scared the hell out of him, because if he died, then who would save Dean from Hell? He couldn't go out like this, couldn't die now. He needed to find a way to get his brother out of Hell first.

"You are such a wimp," Ruby snarled. "Fight back!"

He clawed his fingers into the floorboards and heaved another labored breath into his lungs while the feeling that his torso would collapse if she didn't let up soon sent a new shuddering wave of fear through him. "No," he rasped out. But he couldn't stop the anger from rising any more than he could stop the fear of death from clouding his judgment.

"FIGHT BACK!" she yelled.

He balled one hand into a fist and hammered it down on the floor. "No," he pressed out.

As suddenly as the pressure had hit him and pinned him to the floor it vanished again, and he hauled in a lung full of air and arched his back off the floor, on some level convinced he would be stuck to the wooden planks beneath him. It took him a good long moment before he finally managed to push himself up on his elbows. His chest hurt and he was a little dizzy from the lack of air.

Ruby stepped over him, hunkered down and grabbed the front of his t-shirt to yank him in real close. "If you don't shape up, Sam, I swear to Hell that I am going to kill you. And I won't be quick about it either. I'll make you suffer."

That threat, as opposed to the times she hurt him physically, had the desired effect. He lashed out at her mentally and she was hurled off him with enough force to nearly take down the door when she hit it. He sat up, shook his head and pushed the anger back down, bottling it up inside. "Just leave me the hell alone, Ruby," he growled and got somewhat unsteadily to his feet. That sentence was turning into a mantra, one he kept repeating and would keep repeating until she got the point. "You've been trying for ... however long I've been here ... and you're not getting anywhere."

She picked herself up and dusted herself off while eying him darkly for a moment. "On the contrary. You may not want to see it, but you're giving in. Little by little. You're using your abilities much more effectively now."

Spent from her attack as much as the lack of inertia, he sank down on the edge of the bed, still breathing harder than he would have under normal circumstances. "Screw you," he growled and briefly closed his eyes.

She stepped closer and hunkered down in front of him, slipping her hands onto his knees. "You can't not use what you've been given, Sam. You have to use it. It's part of you. And it's the only way you'll survive out there now. Do you really think that the others will let you leave if you want to?" Her tone was once again oddly soft and he wondered if this was the part of her that remembered her humanity. Now and again, she could be downright human in the way she talked to him, but it usually never lasted long. "You've tried to leave once before. Remember what they did to you?" she added, reminding him painfully of the one attempt he had made to get away.

He had convinced himself that he'd rather die than stay with them, that he deserved nothing better, but when push had come to shove, he had been terrified and his escape attempt had been thwarted in the worst possible way. Being reminded of it did not make him feel better. "Why can't you just leave me alone, Ruby? If you can't save Dean from Hell, then what the hell am I doing here?"

"How many times do I have to tell you?" she growled, rose and took a step back. "It takes time. You have to be patient."

"Patient? I've been nothing but patient. You think I get a kick out of this place? You think I like being here?" he snarled and got back to his feet.

"You've had it easy so far," she countered, her tone suddenly deadly cold. "I could make this a living hell for you. Maybe that would convince you to use your abilities."

"I'm not using them. Not if I can help it. I feel like crap when I use them," he snapped.

"No, you don't. You like it. You like the feeling of power. I sensed it in you when you took on the demon that held your brother's contract. You eradicated it completely. There was nothing but dust left. That's your power. And there's so much more hiding in that damned brain of yours. All you have to do is tap into it. You could be all powerful. You could take on God!"

It wasn't so much her words as the way she said them that made him stare at her with renewed concern. "What?" he asked, unsure he had understood her correctly. "You want me take on God?"

She sneered and backed up another step. "Right now you couldn't take on a fucking cockroach. Don't get cocky," she growled, turned and left the cabin.

All he could think to do right then was stare at the door after she slammed it shut. Something told him that Ruby was suffering from delusions of grandeur on his behalf which scared him more than anything else had so far. Did she honestly think that he was any match for a force as powerful as God? He attempted a smile which didn't come out right. Instead it shifted into a jittery grimace, which he was quick to subdue.

At this point in time, he guessed he had been here about a month or so, but wasn't entirely sure of the time-frame. It had taken him this long for Ruby's delusions about his worth to change the gears in his mind and even though he had wanted nothing more than to whither away only moments before, he now knew that he would have to shape up to stay alive. He wouldn't be able to save Dean from Hell otherwise and if whatever Ruby had in mind didn't work – if she even had a way, of course – then he would have to come up with something himself. "Shit," he muttered while pensively rubbing his still sore chest, then started going through all the drawers in the cabin. There weren't that many, but he did find stationary and a pen. The stationary was adorned with the forest motel's name. Pinehearst. He snorted. That didn't give him much to go on. He found envelopes in the drawer as well and that gave him his present location. It said Pinehearst Cabins, Dollar Settlement, Michigan. That at least gave him a pretty good idea of where he was. Not that it really mattered. As long as the demons were around, he was stuck here.

***

Highway 35
Oklahoma

The sun was creeping over the horizon when Dean hit the roadblocks on Highway 35 on his way toward South Dakota. He slowed down and brought the Impala to a stop no more than foot from the massive wall of tree trunks, an overturned tanker truck and tons of other debris blocking the highway toward the North. He had driven for close to five hours after his upsetting encounter with the demons trying to possess him in Dallas – a fact he still had to process, considering that the demons had obviously been breezing around the big city in search of people to possess – and he was both tired and cranky on account of that.

"What the hell?" he muttered, climbed out of the car and stepped up to the towering roadblock. For a second he just stood there and stared up at the top of it, unsure of how to respond to this.

"Where you headed?"

He shifted his attention to the right end of the pile and frowned at the guy suddenly standing there, a shotgun over one arm. The man was burly, looked tired and annoyed, and more than a little weary. "South Dakota," Dean said and made sure he kept his hands visible. That guy looked like he might be inclined to shoot if Dean made a wrong move.

"Can't go that way. Your car'll stall the second you hit the state border," the man said.

Dean glanced back up at the roadblock with a frown. He of course knew what the man was talking about, but wasn't yet willing to disclose his own identity. "Stall? And why would it do that?" he asked, not yet willing to let on that he knew about the power failures out there. "I mean ... this roadblock seems like going overboard to avoid a bunch of stalled cars."

"It ain't, though. You wouldn't believe how stupid people can be. Don't believe what we tell'em, so they go around or over or through and end up getting caught in the no-juice-zones. Some disappear. Some come back after a bit. Some are freaked, some saw nothing," the guy said and shrugged. "You wanna get to South Dakota, you gotta avoid Kansas and Nebraska. Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota are still unaffected by this crap. At least from what I know. But you'll meet other roadblocks along the way if that's changed."

Dean eyed the guy, his stance, the mojo-bag dangling from his belt, the way he dressed, the way he held his weapon, and arched an eyebrow. "You a hunter?" he asked.

The man eyed him back in much the same way, then nodded once. "Yup. I reckon you are too?" he asked back.

Dean nodded once. "Yeah," he agreed. Somehow the fact that this man was in the same business gave him more merit. Even though the term hunter could be loosely interpreted, they could both read the given signs that revealed someone in the business. "Thanks for the tip," he added.

"You be careful out there. The world ain't safe anymore. And make sure you get indoors before sundown and salt every opening," the guy said.

"I'll keep that in mind," Dean said and got back in the car. He raised a hand in greeting, pulled back, turned the Impala around and headed back to the last crossing road he'd driven past to take the detour into Missouri. It would cost him precious time, but he couldn't afford to get caught in what that guy had called a no-juice-zone. With his newfound resistence to demonic possession, he didn't intend to stop anywhere if he could make it all the way to South Dakota in one stretch. But considering the lack of sleep from the previous night, he figured he would have to pull over somewhere and at least get in an hour or two.

It took him another five hours to reach Springfield in Missouri, a bigger town that would afford some protection and the feeling that he wasn't entirely alone in this world, because the streets he had traveled so far had been pretty much devoid of life. He stopped over for lunch for a while, then got back behind the wheel and headed North again.

There were no roadblocks anywhere, but all the smaller towns he breezed through or passed by looked dead. When he reached Centerville in Iowa, it was past eight p.m. and it was getting dark outside. He was wasted and knew he needed to sleep at least a few hours and preferably in a decent bed. As it turned out, he could have his pick. The town was empty.

If he hadn't been so damned tired, the idea of staying in this ghost town would probably have freaked him out a little, but as it were, he couldn't care less as long as there were no dead bodies around. And he hadn't seen any of those.

He grabbed a bag filled with all the various necessities, grabbed his duffle and headed toward the room in Motel 60 on Maple Street. The door to the office had been open and he had just grabbed a random key. Once inside the room, he glanced around briefly, then dumped his duffle and the extra bag on the bed furthest from the door, dug out the salt and set about salting the doors and windows. It was mainly to ensure that he wouldn't be bothered while he slept more than anything.

Once everything was set up, including the three EMF-meters which he had distributed throughout the room, he stopped in the middle of the room and just looked around for a moment. He was as safe as he could be without going overboard, which left him with nothing left to do but get some sleep. With a hollowed-out sigh, he finally sank down on the free bed, and just sat there for a bit. Then he dug his cellphone out of one pocket and eyed the display briefly before he speed-dialed Sam's number.

"Hey. This is Sam. Leave a message."

Same old message every time he managed to get through, followed by the beep at which he hung up. He just sat there with his phone in one hand and stared at it. There were closed doors in his mind he didn't dare open, doors that lead to ideas that were both dangerous and extremely upsetting.

He sighed lightly, then redialed the number and listened to the message again before hanging up once more. It was ridiculous, really, but there was some small comfort to be had in the fact that he could at least reach Sam's voicemail. At this point in time he had no illusions about whether his brother ever got to check his messages. Some part of him assumed that, no matter what state of mind Sam was in right now – providing he was alive at all, of course – Dean believed Sam would call him back if he could. Anything else was just too upsetting to think about.

Fatigued to the bone, he put the phone on the night stand, stretched out on the bed and pulled the bedspread up over him. He couldn't be bothered to get undressed. He was just going to sleep for a bit until he was able to drive a bit further. The sooner he got to Fort Pierre, the better.

***

Pinehearst Cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

Despite his attempts to avoid the abilities that hid inside him like some damned virus, Sam couldn't help tapping into them. For protection first and foremost, but also to keep himself sane. The confinement of the cabin was really beginning to get to him at this point in time and he had no clue how to handle it in any other way.

After Ruby had once again walked out on him in anger, he spent some time just sitting on his bed while he tried to figure out what to do. He needed to get in shape, needed to at least up his physical stamina. With the constant attacks Ruby subjected him to, he knew that he was going to break something soon if he didn't retrain his muscles to withstand the onslaught. And with that plan taking shape, he began to plan for an escape. He needed to get the hell out of here so he could find someone who could maybe help him get Dean out of Hell. Ruby quite obviously wasn't the solution, no matter how often she kept insisting that it was only a matter of time and being patient.

He considered his options for a moment longer, then dropped down on the floor and started doing pushups. Because of the general lack of movement over the last month or so, he tired quickly, but that didn't mean he was going to give up. He would also have to push Ruby to up his food rations.

After ten straight pushups, he paused briefly and just stared at the worn floor beneath him for a moment, then sneered halfheartedly. If he upped his anger, he upped his stamina. And there was plenty to be angry about. He closed his eyes for a moment, drew in a couple of deep breaths, then continued the pushups until his arms jittered and he was sweating by the bucket. The adrenaline rush this caused made him feel a hell of a lot more determined than he had before and he fueled his devastation at Dean's death into this as well, focused hard on what he wanted to do and what he would need to do to get to that point, and pushed on a little further.

"What the hell are you doing?"

He had been so focused on keeping his strength up for the pushups that he hadn't heard the door opening. He stopped and glanced up at Ruby, who was watching him with a slight frown. "Shaping up," he bit out, got back to his feet and mopped a hand over his brow. He was sopping wet at this point.

"That's not exactly what I had in mind," she said. "I was thinking more in terms of using your abilities, you twit," she added.

Sam eyed her for a second longer, then walked into the tiny bathroom to grab a towel. Then he returned to the room and settled down on the edge of the bed. "I need more food," he said, ignoring her stab and her derision.

"Oh, you do, do you?" She sounded mildly surprised. "And why the hell would I feed you more?"

"If you want me to shape up, you're gonna have to let me do it my own way. Since you won't let me out of this box, I have no other options, do I?" He watched her closely, trying to decipher how she would respond to both his words and his tone of voice.

Ruby pursed her lips and just eyed him for a moment. Then she shrugged. "Fine. I'll see what I can do," she said.

It surprised him that she relented this quickly, but he figured she was as tired of this situation as he was. They just had different agendas at this point in time.

***

Motel 60
Centerville, Iowa

He slept for two hours before the EMF meters woke him up. He jerked upright in bed when all three of them went off at once, squawking noisily in the otherwise eerie silence of the motel. The salt-round loaded sawed-off was in his hand before he realized having picked it up while he scanned the dark room for movement. Then he flicked the light on and took in the room. There was no sign of anything until he focused on the window. He hadn't drawn the curtains and was appalled by the fact that there was nothing to be seen through the window. He was back to the night he had spent in the car, but this time the demons couldn't get in. He had blocked their entrance to the room, so all they could do was cover the windows and mull around out there.

He watched the darkness swirling around out there until it finally dissipated an hour later. A part of him wanted to get up and get moving, but he couldn't really convince himself to leave the relative safety of the room until the sun rose. Not that the sun itself would keep the demons at bay. They just seemed to like attacking at night. Unable to do anything other than wait, he had spent that hour sitting on his bed, elbows on knees, hands folded, while he stared at the floor and listened to the staccato squawks of the three EMF meters. He made no move to switch them off, just let them keep up the noisy vigil until the demons outside moved on and left him alone again.

For a long time after, he remained where he was and listened to the renewed silence while he struggled to keep his thoughts under control. He hated being out here alone, hated having to do this on his own, but the one person he wanted to have by his side was the one he was looking for. After an indeterminable time, he raised his head and blinked tiredly at the window. There were still a few hours until sunup and he was more tired than he could ever remember having been before. "Where the hell are you, Sammy?" he whispered and sighed heavily, then decided to catch a little more sleep before he got up and drove on toward Bobby's place.

He woke up again when the horizon started to brighten and even though he felt much like a hanged cat, he decided to get up and get moving. He still had a ways to drive and with his luck, he would run into more roadblocks along the way.

After raiding a nearby convenient store for a few supplies that hadn't started to spoil yet, he slid back behind the wheel and drove on, leaving Centerville behind without a second glance. He tried several times to get through to Bobby, but only got static. And then he tried Sam's number again, which offered the same result.

He got back on the 35 toward Des Moines and continued onward toward Minneapolis after breezing through the town. Once he hit the smaller community of Owatonna some five hours later a little over halfway between Des Moines and Minneapolis, he decided to take a break. He would have to go West from there and hope that he could actually cross the border into South Dakota without running into roadblocks or no-juice-zones. He figured that since he and Grace had managed to get into South Dakota that way before, there was hopefully a chance that he could follow the same route now.

The town he decided to stop in was still populated and appeared to be one of those places where people went about their business and pretended nothing was happening. He couldn't help but marvel at the tenacity of ignorance in people, but figured it was the way the good townspeople of Owatonna coped with the situation. And it was a definite benefit for him, because he had a place to stop where there was actual food to be had.

He found a diner on Hoffman Drive that suited his needs and realized that the good townsfolk weren't that ignorant. From the second he stepped inside, all eyes were on him. For a moment, nobody said anything. Then the other patrons started talking again, but all of them kept an eye on him. He hoped it wouldn't cause a problem, because he really wasn't in the mood to deal with any trigger-happy yahoos who considered him a threat to their freedom or something along those lines.

"What'll it be?"

He met the scrutinizing gaze of the woman standing behind the counter. "What have you got?" he countered and glanced up at the menu displayed on the wall behind her.

"What you see," she said, her tone not entirely friendly. She was in her late forties and looked like she expected him to sprout another head any second now. "Passin' through?"

He nodded once. "Yup. Just need a little something to eat," he agreed. "I'll take the special and coffee."

"Sit anywhere," she suggested with a nod.

"Thanks," he muttered, found an empty table by the window and sank into the chair with a tired sigh. Once he got to Bobby's, he was going to sleep for a bit, but until he reached the salvage yard, he wasn't going to be able to rest properly.

The waitress brought him his meal and coffee and he payed her at once to maybe give them all the idea that he would be out of here soon enough. The tension in this place was high, but so far nobody had made a move against him or told him to leave. Not that he had any great desire to stick around. He finished his meal in silence, hardly touched the coffee, and rose again after half an hour.

He gave the waitress a brief smile in passing which she didn't return and headed back to the Impala to move on. He was tired and, if he had to be truly honest with himself, depressed like hell as well. All he needed right now was a friendly face and he knew that was waiting at the end of this line. And for the first time ever he could admit – at least to himself – that he was almost desperate for Grace's hands-on approach. In other words, he couldn't wait to damned well hug the life out of his aunt to just feel like there was at least one person out there who gave a crap about him.

It took him almost eight hours with one stopover to fill the tank to get to Pierre and by the time he rolled into town, it was getting dark again. When he hit the town, he brought the Impala to a stop and just sat there, the engine idling, and stared out at Euclid Avenue while his mind refused to understand the consequences of the deserted street ahead of him. The street lights were on, cars were parked orderly along the sidewalks, and there wasn't a living soul in sight.

It took him a good ten minutes before the implications of the deserted street ahead of him finally sank in. "Son of a bitch," he whispered, then floored the gas pedal and raced through town as fast as he dared, his heart in his throat. If Pierre was empty, then Fort Pierre would be just as empty. And that could only mean one thing.

The Impala tore across the bridge and up West Highway until he saw the salvage yard ahead. He forced himself to slow down, not wanting to seem like a complete lunatic if all was okay up there, and managed to let the Impala roll through the gates at an orderly pace. But that was as far as he could control himself. He stomped on the break and brought the big car to a skittering stop. The yard was quiet and the house looked dead.

It took him a moment or two to pull himself enough together to get out of the car. Bobby's car sat where he always parked it, which could have been considered good news, except both doors were open. Dean stepped up to the car and sent a quick look inside. The keys were dangling from the ignition. "Shit," he muttered, then looked up at the house. "Bobby?" he called, sent a quick look around the front yard, then stepped around Bobby's car and rushed up the steps. He knocked on the door, well aware of how quickly he could end up with a load of buckshot in him if he just barged in. But there was no sound from within. He tried knocking again, then turned the doorknob. The front door was locked. "BOBBY?" he yelled, hoping that maybe they'd just barricaded themselves inside the house. And still there was no sound from within.

"Shit," he hissed again, returned to the Impala to get his lock pick kit and unlocked the front door. He stepped through cautiously, listening intently to the silent house. It felt deserted, not like it normally would. "Bobby?" he tried again. "Grace?"

There was no reply.

He took the time to go through the house top to bottom and didn't find anything. There was no indication of that anything violent had happened and if it hadn't been for the fact that Bobby's car had been sitting out front, Dean would have assumed that they'd made it out. But the car made him very anxious. "Dammit, Bobby," he whispered when he came to a stop in the middle of the livingroom again and briefly glanced around. "Oh man, this can't be happening," he muttered. The worst case scenario was beginning to build in his mind and he just couldn't cope with that right now.

With sudden intensity, he felt like someone had strapped a wire around his chest and was tightening it beyond the tolerable. Hyperventilating and lightheaded, he dropped down into a crouch and let his head drop to stave off the suddenly very real option of him passing out from sheer anxiety.

It took him a moment to regain any semblance of control, but he remained where he was, just sat down on the floor in the middle of the livingroom and just sat there and stared ahead of himself. With Sam in enemy hands and Bobby and Grace gone, he was outnumbered and outgunned. How the hell was he going to accomplish anything while completely alone?

***

He couldn't get going again. The realization that he was well and truly alone had simply knocked the air out of him and he had no living clue how he was going to make it through another day like this. For an hour, he just sat on the floor and stared ahead of himself. Darkness had settled completely and outside, rain had started falling. He could hear it through the open front door. And still he could not convince himself to get up and get moving.

It was only when the first thunder rumbled in the distance and the first crack of lighting lit up the sky outside that he regained a little bit of his composure. Slowly, he climbed back to his feet and walked over to the front door to watch the rain come down in torrents out there. There was a small sense of purpose for him in making sure the cars stayed dry, considering that he hadn't closed the driver side door of the Impala and Bobby's car was open to the elements too. He didn't hurry to complete this task, though, and was drenched by the time he trudged back up the steps to the porch. Oblivious to the rain, he settled down on the top step, barely shielded from the downpour by the overhanging roof, and just sat there and stared out at the dark and lifeless salvage yard. Never once had he arrived at this place without finding Bobby here and the fact that neither Bobby nor Grace were here now rattled him so badly, he couldn't function.

With the night air anything but warm, it took fairly little time before he began to shiver. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?" he whispered to noone in particular. There was no-one left for him to talk to. But he still had to find Sam, still had to find a way to locate his brother, and that thought bolstered him a little. He still had purpose, still had a job to do. What he feared, of course, was what to expect if he did find Sam again. So far, he hadn't heard much other than what Bobby's contact had said and Dean didn't believe that even for a second. But something told him that there were forces at play here ready to do whatever it took to make sure Sam looked guilty as hell.

Unsteady to say the least, he finally got up again and trudged back into the house and closed the door behind him. He couldn't convince himself to do anything other than drop onto the couch, pull a blanket over himself and let sleep claim him. He was tired, weary to the bone, but he knew that sleep would not be restful tonight.

***