Pinehearst Cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

A particularly loud crack of thunder ripped Sam out of a restless sleep. He pushed himself up on his elbows and listened to the rain hitting the cabin for a long moment while he tried to gather himself enough to wake up properly.

For the first few seconds, he was oddly confused. "Dean?" he muttered, then slowly sat up while the interior of the cabin stepped into stark focus when another bolt of lightning pierced the skies above and for a split second lit everything in an eerie cold light.

He pulled one knee up and dropped his head while he listened to the rain again and tried to force the pain away. But it wouldn't go, and all the while a niggling doubt wormed its way into his mind. Was he wasting his time here? Did Ruby have the solution to his problem or was she merely stringing him along for whatever nefarious purpose she had for him? Had Dean been right about her from the beginning?

He sighed deeply, pushed the covers aside and got up. He needed to find out what Ruby really knew, what she could really do about saving Dean. There was that small voice in the back of his head that told him she had no intention of saving Dean and that he was pinning his hopes on something that had initially been responsible for sending his brother to Hell. But he wouldn't yet listen to that voice and did his best to shut it up.

A sudden sound rippled through the air from outside, something he couldn't identify at first. He stepped up to the window and pushed the flimsy curtain aside a little. It was hard to see anything in the darkness out there, but yet another bolt of lightning gave him a flash-camera perspective of whatever was going on. The demons were all up and about, standing together in a circle about twenty feet from the cabin. Sam squinted and tried to get a grasp on what they were doing, but he couldn't see through the rain and the darkness.

Well aware of the danger this might put him in, he still decided to sneak out there to get a closer look. They were preoccupied by whatever was going on, which would give him the opportunity of not only finding out what they were up to, but also to get out of this damned cabin, if only for a little while.

At some point, Ruby had stopped locking the door behind her when she left, which made this easy for him. He carefully edged the door open, slipped outside and stayed in the shadows. For all he knew, it would do him no good. He assumed they had good night vision since whatever they were doing was done in complete darkness. But once he was outside, he could hear their voices.

"What do we do with him?" a male asked.

"I say we kill him right now," another male sneered.

Sam edged closer, as close as he dared go without the benefit of the protection of the cabins.

"No, not yet." Ruby's voice sounded annoyed. "He may have information we can use. Tie him up in the shed over there. Make sure he can't get free. We'll flay him if we have to, but we'll do it when this fucking rain lets up."

"What? You're afraid of a little rain?" one male leered.

Ruby backhanded him across the face, throwing him off his feet. "Take that tone with me again and I'll flay you instead," she snapped. "Do as I say," she added and pulled her knife, which made the others back off and obey.

Sam watched in silence while four of the demons dragged an obviously unconscious man across the compound toward the shed and disappeared inside. His heart began to hammer faster in his chest. Even though he knew it was impossible, there was that little voice in the back of his head that kept whispering that it might be Dean, that his brother might not be dead and that he could stop this from happening now. He pulled back a little, then edged back toward his cabin. Ruby was pissed right now and it wouldn't do if she caught him outside. She would most likely fillet him if she did and he really didn't want to risk that right now. He needed to find out who this guy was and, more importantly, how to get him the hell away from the demons before they killed him. And all the while he struggled to shut that voice up that kept insisting that this might be Dean.

Drenched to the bone, he slid back inside and closed the door, hoping desperately that none of them had seen him. He figured they had been too preoccupied with the other guy. Since spare clothes were still in short supply, he stripped everything off apart from his shorts, threw it in the shower stall and got back into bed. But he couldn't sleep. The sound of voices raised in anger reached him for a while until everything piped down out there. He waited a while after that while hearing only the rain and figured they had all gone to bed. For a moment he wondered if they actually needed sleep or if they just gave their host bodies a chance to rest so they didn't burn out too quickly.

Then he slipped out of bed again, dragged his jeans and a t-shirt on and stuck his bare feet into his sneakers before sneaking over to the window. Thunder continued to rumble out there, but it was more infrequent now and the lightning bolts were no longer so strong. The storm was moving away from them, which meant the rain could stop at any minute.

After convincing himself that the demons had all disappeared, he opened the door again and slipped back outside. He didn't have any way of dealing with potential cuffs, and hoped they would have stuck with ropes or wire or something he could get off the guy without tools.

The rain was letting up. Sam glanced upwards at the sky and could see stars peeking through the cloud cover. "Shit," he whispered, checked the deserted-seeming area again before he made a beeline for the shed. No sense in sneaking around too much. It would take too much time and there was a bigger risk of being caught if it took him too long to get over there.

The inside of the shed was darker than outside and the brief opening of the door did little to guide his steps. He stopped after closing the door and just listened to the interior until he heard someone shift at the other end.

"Who's there?" The voice was rough, tired-sounding, low. And it wasn't Dean. The pang of disappointment that followed in the wake of that realization nearly made him turn around and leave. But he had the chance of helping this guy, of making a difference, and that had to mean something somewhere.

"Who are you?" Sam asked quietly and shifted forward a few steps. He couldn't see anything.

"Nobody. What do you care?" the guy ground out.

"I'm not a demon," Sam whispered and shifted another step forward. It wasn't like he was giving anything away that all the demons gathered here didn't know already.

"And I should believe that?" the man muttered and groaned when he shifted. "Just get it over with. Kill me already. That's what you really want to do, isn't it?"

"I'm not a demon. I don't want to kill you, but I can help you get out of here," Sam hissed and shifted another step closer. His right foot bumped into something that shifted away from him.

"You can't see in the dark?" the guy asked quietly.

"No, of course I can't," Sam countered and carefully shifted closer. "Are you telling me you can?"

"Not a lick," the guy admitted. "The name's Henry Barrister. I'm a hunter."

Sam considered if he should give an alias, but assumed this guy would be in his debt if he helped him survive. "Sam Winchester," he replied.

A sharp intake of breath and a scramble to move was the only reply he got to that at first. But then Barrister stilled. "I've heard bad things about you," he finally said, his tone full of caution.

Sam frowned in the darkness. "Like what? I've been laid up in a cabin for ages, can't get away," he countered.

Barrister remained silent for another spell. "But you can get me out of here?" he then asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Sam agreed and shifted forward, then reached a hand out in search of the wall that Barrister was likely tied to. "How are you tied up? I can't see squat."

"Rope, I think," Barrister said and his clothing rustled when he moved again. "My feet a free."

Sam stubbed his fingertips against the wooden wall of the shed, shifted them a little and found the rope holding Barrister. He ran his fingers over the rope until he found Barrister's hands, examined the knots and grimaced. "They're not too concerned about keeping you tied up for long, are they?" he muttered and started working on the very basic knots.

It took a little time, but finally he managed to untie Barrister, who pulled his arms down with a groan. The sound of rustling fabric followed by the sandpaper sound of skin being rubbed told Sam that Barrister was probably rubbing his wrists. "Thanks," the man muttered. "So ... if you're serious about this, how do I get out?"

Sam made a face. Some part of him was dying to know what this guy had heard about him, but there wasn't time for chitchat. The demons would be coming to torture and eventually kill this man. He needed to leave right now. Sam latched onto his arm and hauled him to his feet. "Follow me," he said.

Barrister followed him back toward the door, where Sam stopped to listen. There were no sounds from outside apart from rain still falling, which was good news. He edged the door open and took a second to adjust his eyes to the lesser darkness outside before pulling the door wide enough so they could both slip outside. He quickly ushered Barrister along the side of the shed toward the back. "Go in a straight line away from here. The faster you move, the better," he whispered.

Even though it was still dark outside, he could see better now. Barrister was a guy in his forties, gaunt, tall, receding hairline, long face. Barrister in turn eyed him quietly for a moment, then grabbed his upper right arm. "Come with me," he whispered back.

Sam shook his head. "I can't. If I leave too, they'll come after you immediately. You won't get far. Just go. Now. Please," he said and wished desperately that he could go with this guy.

Barrister sent a quick look around the corner of the shed, then sighed. "Are you sure, kid? This is not a place you wanna stay."

"Just go," Sam insisted quietly. He was getting nervous now. The longer it took to get Barrister going, the worse it would be once the demons realized he was gone. "Please. I'll stall them. They won't kill me." He wasn't so sure of that. If Ruby couldn't hold the others back or decided he wasn't worth the effort, he feared he would be in Hell in mere moments. And not just because they would torture him to death either.

Barrister didn't look happy, but he nodded. "Okay. Get out of here as soon as you can, kid. The first chance you get, you grab it. You hear me?"

Sam nodded and gave the guy a push. "Go," he persisted.

Barrister took off at a somewhat lumbering run, leaving Sam behind. Sam waited for a moment to give the guy as much of a head start as he could, then slipped around the shed and inspected the quiet clearing for a moment before he pushed away from the structure and hurried across toward his cabin.

"What the fuck are you doing out in the open?" That wasn't Ruby's voice and Sam froze in place mere steps from the door to the cabin, then slowly turned back to face one of the male demons.

"I just wanted some air," he managed, appalled at how jittery his voice sounded. The memory of the first attack he had endured and barely survived bubbled up in him.

"You just wanted some air, huh?" the demon sneered.

The rain had stopped and other demons started appearing from the other cabins. "Yeah," Sam agreed and took a careful step back toward the cabin. "What's your problem anyway? You got something against that?" He couldn't help the almost convulsive swallow when one of the other demons opened the door to the shed and stepped inside.

The demon facing him suddenly raised a hand. The psychic shove pushed him off his feet and he hit the wet ground on his back with enough force to make him grunt. "My problem, you sorry excuse for a life, is that you've just let a hunter go. Which kinda proves my point of you not stepping up to the plate here, little boy," the demon snarled.

Sam struggled to engage his own latent powers, to push back, but realized with some concern that he had no control over his abilities when he was in a lock-down like this. Of course, the fact that he was scared shitless right now probably had a lot to do with that as well.

***

Fort Pierre, SD

Dean woke up with a jerk as if someone had kicked him hard. He reared up off the couch, feeling a little stiff and cold, but couldn't immediately remember any dreams that might have caused the abruptness of his awakening.

Bleary-eyed and a bit disoriented, he just sat there for a minute and glanced around the cluttered living room before he realized where he was and what had happened the day before. "Aw crap," he muttered, cleared his decidedly sore throat, and pulled his legs over the edge of the couch to plant his feet squarely on the floor.

He had to keep reminding himself that he still had a purpose, that he had to find Sam and preferably soon. With that on his mind, he scrubbed both palms over his face, then raked his fingers through his hair, but could not convince himself to get up and get moving. Then his gaze fixed on the bottle of Jacks sitting in a bookshelf and he smirked joylessly. "Bobby always did like the good stuff," he muttered to himself, rose and walked over to it. He eyed the bottle for a moment, then grabbed it and trailed into the kitchen.

There wasn't much left that was edible, but what he found wasn't spoiled, which made him think that this event that had cleared out the town hadn't happened too long ago. It didn't make it any easier to bear, though.

A sudden thought made him put the bottle down on the cluttered kitchen table and dig his phone out of one pocket. He speed-dialed Bobby's number and got nothing but static. Then he tried Grace's number and got the same. "Shit," he whispered, pulled a chair out and sank down on it. He glanced from his phone to the bottle, then back to the phone and dialed Sam's number. Again he got nothing but static. Fort Pierre was apparently a no-juice-zone now.

Then he frowned. He had driven here. The car hadn't stalled. Which had to mean that there was still power. He glanced around the kitchen, then got up to open the fridge. The light inside was still working and the fridge was cold. So it was only the phones that were affected here. Even so, it still did nothing to remedy the fact that Bobby and Grace were gone.

Again, he cleared his throat, disconcerted at the soreness this produced. His inability to deal with his soaked clothes the night before was obviously backfiring on him right now. In an attempt to at least deal with the beginnings of a cold before it got out of hand, he put on some coffee, grabbed the bag of bread he had found and dropped down on the chair again. His agenda was clear to him, even though the how's weren't. He had to find Sam. Somehow, he knew Sam was still out there, and he had to find him. And if that one rumor he had heard about him was true, then he was going to have to beat some sense into the kid to get him back on the straight and narrow.

The worst case scenario right now to him was that other hunters would get to Sam before he did. He didn't allow himself to think too much about the implications one way or another. All he knew was that he needed to find his brother.

Still tired, he folded his arms on the tabletop and laid his head down on them. He needed to get his act together, but right now he just felt so damned drained that it was almost painful.

***

Pinehearst Cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

It wasn't the first time in his life that he'd had the shit kicked out of him by a gang, but he had never been at the receiving end of the anger of that many demons before. Not all at once.

There were seven of them and they played dirty. While using their powers to restrain him from fighting back, they kicked and punched the hell out of him until he could barely focus and every ache and pain melted into one giant boiling pot of agony. How long they kept going was beyond him, but by the time they finally let off him again it had gotten light. He was on his back, covered in mud and blood and bruises, and a part of him just wanted to die right there. Recovering from this would take a while and with Ruby's less than gentle approach to him at the moment, he was fairly certain he wasn't done hurting.

"Enough," one of the demons said. "We've had our fun. Let's end this."

Before he could even halfway consider what to do – he had trouble stringing two words together in his aching head right now – his entire body erupted in excruciating pain. He arched his back and dug his fingers into the dirt beneath him while he was overcome with the sense that they were trying to skin him alive. And no measure of heroic effort to tolerate the pain would do here. He started screaming in agony.

And then the pain suddenly cut off again. He slumped to the ground, panting from the pain and the effort of trying to scream his lungs out, and focused long enough to see Ruby pulling her knife out of the demon that had spoken. It hit the ground and she held up the knife, threatening the others.

"Get the fuck away from him. How many times do I have to tell you?" she yelled angrily.

The others stood there and stared at her, their eyes black. "He let the hunter go," one of them snarled out.

"I don't fucking care, do I?" Ruby snapped. "I've told you repeatedly that he's off limits. The next one who even looks at him is dead."

The others withdrew, reluctantly, and Ruby waited for a moment before she pushed the knife back in its sheath, then turned back to eye Sam. "Get up," she snarled.

He made a valiant effort to obey her, but he just couldn't. Every move he made sent a scream through his tortured body and he eventually had to give up. "Can't," he rasped.

Ruby's expression tightened, then she grabbed his upper left arm and hauled him up off the ground, hurting him in the process. He couldn't stop the yelp that escaped him and his legs wouldn't carry his weight right now. He wasn't even sure if he could feel his legs. Everything hurt like hell.

Without paying any attention to how much she was hurting him, she dragged him into the cabin, where she dumped him unceremoniously on the floor, before striding back to the door. For a moment he thought she was just going to leave him there, but she slammed the door shut and turned back to face him. "You are so fucking pathetic," she snarled, strode back over to him and hammered her boot tip into his rib-cage, ripping him over on his back with a hoarse cry of agony.

"Please," he rasped in a vain attempt to avoid any further attacks from her side.

She straddled his stomach and dropped down on it, making him grunt with pain. Ruby grabbed a handful of his soaked and muddy t-shirt and yanked him off the floor, causing him more pain. "I should knock your fucking block off for this," she hissed and raised one hand, ready to strike.

He couldn't help himself. He closed his eyes and turned his head away, scared to death of her right now. Any and all anger was buried deeply beneath the aching throb of every single bruise, scrap and cut the demons had given him and he hated himself for being scared right now.

Ruby hissed angrily and let go of him. Too spent, he slammed back down on the floor and groaned under his breath before squinting up at her. She stood there, one foot on either side of his hips, and stared at her muddied hand with distaste. Then she looked down at him for a second, her expression tight with anger, before she strode into the bathroom to wash her hands clean. Then she left the cabin again and this time, she locked the door again.

It took him forever to even think of moving and when he tried, he gave up on it as quickly as the thought had formed. No way was he able to move right now. Even a slight shift of his head made him nauseous with pain. His chest felt like it was caving in and he was convinced at this point that he had a skull fracture and one massive edema coupled with a concussion. It generally felt like every single rib was broken and he had the niggling fear that his spine might be broken too. He couldn't feel his legs at all.

Incapable of drawing a decent breath right now, his fight to stay conscious quickly faded into nothingness as darkness descended on him and pulled him under.

***

Bobby's place
Fort Pierre, SD

He woke up with a sore back and an equally sore throat after having fallen asleep at the kitchen table. Blearily he blinked at the room for a moment, then slowly sat up, stretching muscles that felt stiff and painful from lack of use and the odd angle at which he had slept. There was no comfort in waking up in familiar surroundings. The purpose of life right now defied him and made it almost impossible for him to get his act together. What was the point, really? There wasn't anyone out there who gave a crap about him any more and the mere thought of what had become of his brother made his skin crawl.

His gaze hitched on the bottle of Jacks for a second, then drifted on aimlessly. He couldn't really see the point of going on right now and wondered if he had ended up in Hell anyway and just hadn't notice the transition. Maybe that was what Hell was? Everything ripped away had left him standing all alone, miserable and heartsick. He had no idea what had happened to Bobby and Grace and could only hope that they'd made it out before this misery had hit Fort Pierre and wiped everybody else out. He couldn't allow himself to think of it in any other way right now. Even the idea that Bobby and Grace hadn't made it out in time made him want to eat a bullet. And the not knowing what had happened to Sam intensified that need tenfold.

Tired to the bone, he grabbed the bottle and took a hefty swig. It went down like molten lava, burning his sore throat, making him cough. Then he took another swig and grimaced at the acidic feeling this created in his stomach. He was hungry, but hunger came second at this point. First on the agenda was the dulling of his senses. Anything else would have to wait.

He downed the entire bottle, which had been almost full, before he started considering that it might not have been such an outstanding idea to drink on an empty stomach. Affected in a bad way, he staggered to his feet and briefly sent a somewhat unsteady look around the kitchen, then headed toward the downstairs bathroom and barely made it.

Drinking hard liquor on an empty stomach was never a good idea, but doing it while he was fighting off a flu, or whatever the hell was causing the soreness in his throat and limps, was an even worse idea.

The whiskey burned twice as much coming up as it had going down and if his throat hadn't been raw before, it was now. The intensity of the vomiting coupled with the flu fighting for supremacy had his head thudding away with a pulse of its own when he finally managed to get back on his feet. The only thing he could think of at that point was to find the damned couch and lie down. Life had thrown him many curveballs over the years and he had dealt with most of them head on. But this was too much even for him. Without his family to back him up, without some glimmer of hope on the horizon, the diamond had lost its luster and was now nothing but a dull piece of coal. There simply wasn't enough incentive to keep going right now, but he figured he needed to sleep on it before he made any snap judgments.

With that on his mind, he made his way into the living room and dropped down on the couch, pulled the blanket up over his head and promptly passed out.

***

Pinehearst Cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

It had to be the understatement of the century that he felt like crap. When he came to, he had no idea how much time he had spent on the cold floor of the cabin and could only judge it by how chilled he was. Every damned inch of him felt like a big bruise and his joints felt frozen. His left shoulder throbbed and for a moment he tried to remember when that had happened, but couldn't pinpoint it in the confused mess of the demons attacking him earlier. Not that it mattered in the greater scheme of things, of course. Generally, he just felt like crap. He shifted a little and tried to get his right arm to move, but it felt heavy and sluggish and even the idea of moving it hurt.

"Are you going to lie around on the floor all day?"

Ruby's tone was derisive, but he was used to that by now. That she was here wasn't a comfort, but it did bolster him a little, gave him enough incentive to want to try and move despite the pain. He didn't want to have to depend on her help in any manner or fashion and since she was here and bothered commenting on it, she obviously had issues with him lying on the floor. With an effort, he shifted his right hand a little, then pushed his arm up and planted his palm on the floor, intent on maybe rolling over on his side for a start. But the second he shifted his back, a blast of agony erupted in the small of his back and sent nauseating waves of pain out through his entire body. He sucked in air and stopped breathing to ride out the pain, but Ruby was not in a forgiving mood and obviously didn't intend to give him the time he needed to regain his breath.

Before he realized what she was about to do, she had grabbed his right arm and hauled him halfway off the floor and he couldn't stop the strangled cry of pain. God, that hurt like hell. His back was on fire and it felt like his spine was made of crushed glass. But even his vocalization of pain didn't stop her from dragging him off the floor and dumping him on the bed. It was only at that point that he realized something that made his blood freeze. He couldn't move his legs. As a matter of fact, he couldn't really feel anything from the waist down.

Panting for the breath the pain was stealing and the equally nauseating fear of what the numbness meant, he dug his fingers into the pillow while he tried to assess how badly damaged he was. If his spine was broken, he was in deep shit.

"What are you whimpering about?" Ruby growled. He only knew she shifted his legs onto the bed because he glanced back at her and he felt himself being moved.

"My back," he ground out and tried to reach the small of his back where the majority of the pain seemed to come from.

Ruby slapped his hand away and pulled his t-shirt up, then arched an eyebrow. "That's one hell of a lump," she said and touched it. She might as well have plunged a finger into a bullet hole and wiggled it around for good measure.

His vision blacked out for a few seconds and he couldn't even find the breath to scream in pain. And to make matters worse, Ruby didn't remove her hand. She kept it on the lump and applied light pressure. To bear it, he sank his teeth into the pillow and blacked out completely when she suddenly pushed down on the lump with excessive force.

***