Bobby's place
Fort Pierre, SD

A roll in the wrong direction coupled with a wrong move sent him off the couch and onto the floor. "Crap," he groaned. With a headache from hell and the feeling like he'd tried to swallow a wad of sandpaper with the business side out made him consider briefly that maybe he should just stay there on the floor. But the wooden boards underneath him cut uncomfortably into his cheek and the twisting he'd done with his back made his spine ache dully.

"Shit," he rasped, pushed up on his hands and squinted at the room for a moment. That he felt like crap was no surprise. That he had no intention to remedy the situation wasn't so much a surprise either. But there was that dull little nagging voice in the back of his head that made any previous, drunken considerations to make this the end of the line as farfetched as Gary Larson's talking cows. Sam was still out there somewhere and, turned or not, Dean had to find him. It was his job, after all. And it didn't matter one aorta how he felt about it.

"Aorta," he muttered, swallowed and grimaced. "Man, I so do not need a frigging flu right now." With an effort, he hauled himself back onto the couch and just sat there for a moment, back bent, elbows resting on his thighs, while he tried to get his act together.

A plan slowly began to take shape while he sat there. He would spend a few days here, recuperate as much as he could, and then head back out there and continue his so far aimless search for his brother. And now, added to that, was the aim at finding out what exactly had happened to Bobby and Grace. He couldn't let himself believe that they were dead. He more sensed than knew the danger that lay down that road, had a distinct feeling what it would do to his already precarious balance if he allowed himself to believe – even for a second – that the two most important 'adults' in his life were gone for good. He needed to be able to hold onto the thought that they had made it out, that they weren't gone, or he would lose it. No doubt about that.

***

Two days later

Despite the crappiness of a stuffed nose and a constant tickle in the back of his throat that sent him into nearly uncontrollable coughing fits every fifteen minutes, Dean was back on the road two days later, heading god-knew-where. He hardly ate any more, but compensated with vast amounts of beer and whiskey. What did it really matter, after all? It wasn't like the cops were littering the place any more. The few cars he met sped by without paying any attention and the few people he ran into didn't care one way or another if he was driving drunk.

The booze helped him stave off the worst of the symptoms, which would otherwise have confined him to a bed for at least a week, and he had driven in worse conditions than this before without ever ending up in a ditch. So he drove until he ran out of gas or awareness and depending on which came first, he either ended up at a gas station or a back-road in a forest somewhere where he caught a few hours of restless sleep before he was back on the road again, feeling crappier than hell and more despondent than anyone had any right to feel.

He carried on like that for a week while the symptoms of his flu compacted into something more sinister because he wouldn't stop and take care of himself even for a minute. He had no idea which State he was in or for how long he had been driving, only knew that it was dark and that he felt lousier than lousy.

A few towns back – one of the populated places in this State – he had spent about an hour in a bar, sitting in a booth near the back, while he had listened to the conversations. Apparently, this place was frequented by hunters and a few of them were sitting in the booth next to his, talking quietly. And they were talking about Sam. And what they said made his blood freeze. There generally wasn't even one atrocity his brother was not guilty of at this point in time. He had been seen killing women, children, old folk and pets even. One of the men had sworn he had seen 'the leader of the demon army' skin a dog alive with his bare hands with a vicious grin on his face.

The thought alone made bile rise in his throat. He had heard similar conversations in other bars around the country, always quite conversations not meant for other people's ears, always tales full of violence and death, and always, always with his brother as the center figure. Some named him by name, some just called him the leader. But Dean knew who they were talking about and it tore his heart out. He couldn't believe that Sam would do such things, that his baby brother would ever violate the sanctity of life like that, but the more he heard others talk about it, the more he began to waver. If it had been one or two, he would have brushed it off as nonsense. But wherever he stopped over and met other hunters – either face-to-face or like this – they spoke of his brother and the horrible deeds he was accused of. It got harder and harder to sweep it all under the carpet.

One of the men in the other booth had mentioned a hunter's hideout outside of one of the nearby towns toward the west. And he had mentioned 'that grizzled old librarian who knows everything', which had sparked the hope in Dean that he was talking about Bobby. So he had set off, not able to stomach more talk about his brother, and had headed west out of town, hoping to somehow find this hideout so he could find out if Bobby was still alive and in extension if Grace was still with him.

That he had emptied a bottle of whiskey and chased it down with several beers didn't register as a potential problem, but while the Impala ate up the miles of the highway in complete darkness, he began to consider the implications of his present state. But his mind was too muddled and his senses shot to hell by the flu and the whiskey and the worry and he didn't even know how to respond when the drive suddenly turned very bumpy and the road took a steep drop. The Impala rammed something and he slammed forward into the steering wheel with the impact, while the last thought crossing his muddled mind was that maybe, just maybe, he would find a little peace now.

***

A few hours later

The sound of an engine running, throaty, stuttering, combined with the smell of burned rubber and the intensely hushed silence of the forest around them drew them closer toward the crash site. There were four of them, one woman, three men, and they moved as silently as the night, all dressed in black, all armed to the teeth. The woman signaled the others to move forward and did so herself as well. Her name was Ann Darrow, better known as Annie among her friends and fellow hunters, and she was no-one to be trifled with.

They reached the crashed vehicle and Annie came to a gliding stop just short of the car's still functional right headlight, the strong beam bathing her black-clad left leg in brilliant light while the rest of her remained in darkness. She raised a hand, stopping her group in their tracks, while she listened to the darkness around them and her gaze lingered on the prone figure slumped against the steering wheel of the old classic. She knew a good car when she saw one and this one was salvageable. Whether the car's driver was, still remained to be seen.

With her hand still raised, she squinted at the dark figure, sent another brief glance around and up on the road where the car had come from, then balled a fist and let her hand drop. The others moved forward and stopped when they reached her, forming a loose half-circle around the driver side door.

"Let's see if he's still alive," she said quietly. "Billy, head back to HQ and bring the tow-truck. Whether this guy is still alive or not, this car still works."

The boy she had spoken to nodded once and took off at a run while Gardner, an older man with the constitution of stainless steel, pulled the driver side door open and hunkered down next to the driver. He checked his pulse, then glanced back at Annie. "Still breathing. Looks like he's just as hard to kill as his car," he said.

"Let's get him out of there and back to HQ. Be careful, though," Annie warned, her keen eyes locked on the unmoving figure.

Gardner pushed the man back and started. "Holy crap," he muttered.

"What?" Annie pulled the flashlight from her belt and aimed its cutting light at the unconscious man. In her opinion he wasn't much to look at, but with week-old stubble and blood smeared all over his face, it was difficult to discern anything special about his features. The ugly gaping cut on his brow did not exactly add anything good to the sight.

"That's Dean Winchester," Gardner said and glanced briefly up at Annie. "Whatever we do, we'd better make sure the car follows him back to HQ. From what I hear, he's ready to kill if someone touches his car."

Annie smirked tightly. "He's in no condition to make a fuss. Get him out of there and turn that engine off. It's bound to attract too much attention."

Gardner hauled Dean out of the car and Freckles, a man who had so far refused to disclose his name, but was still as useful and irreplaceable as any of them, leaned in and turned the engine of. The growl of the Impala's engine died and took the headlights illumination with it, plunging the forest back into darkness.

For a moment the three of them stood still, allowing their eyes to adjust, then Annie waved Gardner and Freckles on their way. They moved instantly, no questions asked, and headed back towards their headquarters, carrying the unconscious man, while Annie remained behind to wait for Billy to return with the tow-truck.

***

An hour later

Annie stood leaning against the doorframe of what passed for the medical unit of their hideout while she watched Gloria tend to her latest patient. Gloria was a thirty-two year old nurse who had joined them a few months ago.

"How bad is it?" Annie asked.

"Not so bad, I think," Gloria said and glanced briefly up at her. "Banged his head pretty bad," she added and returned her attention to her work. "It'll add to the hangover he'll have when he wakes up."

Annie frowned. "Hangover?" she asked.

Gloria smirked. "He reeks of alcohol." She put the finishing touches on the gauze pad now covering half his brow, then rose and turned back to face Annie while she wiped her hands on a towel. "He's more drunk than hurt," she said. "On the skinny side, too. Don't think he eats too much. He looks unhealthy, like he hasn't slept in a while. I think he may have the flu too. From the way he's breathing, there may be a pneumonia to add insult to injury."

Annie eyed him for a moment longer, then sighed. "Another hopeless case, you think?" she asked.

Gloria shrugged. "Only way we'll know is when he wakes up. He got a name?"

"Gardner said his name's Dean Winchester," Annie said, her expression tensing a little.

Gloria made a face. "Then this could mean trouble," she suggested.

"Not necessarily. Let's just stick by Steve's rules and just take it slow. There's nothing to be gained by judging the guy before we know what's what. Just patch him up and make him comfortable. We'll see what he wants to do when he comes around," Annie said.

Gloria nodded and returned her attention to her unconscious charge. "This world has really gone to Hell, hasn't it?"

"Not yet, Gloria. And it won't if we can in any way stop it," Annie said, turned around and left. She needed to discuss this development with Steve, their unassuming leader.

***

Pinehearst Cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

It was the subtle knowledge that he had been out far longer than he cared for that brought him back to the surface. The memory of pain so harsh it had stopped him from moving rippled through him and he stopped himself from rearing up and just lay there and allowed the feelings to awaken. He still hurt, badly, but it wasn't nearly as potent as it had been. His back felt like one big bruise, but the good news was that so did his legs. And if he could feel his legs, he was pretty sure whatever damage he had suffered was reversible. It didn't change the fact that he felt like crap, though.

With consciousness and sensation came another urgent need and he groaned at the mere thought of having to heed the call of nature. As a matter of fact, he had the distinct impression that he was long overdue and needed to get a damned move on.

Basic needs overwrote everything else and with the utmost effort, he managed to roll over on his side, which at least for a few minutes would take the pressure off his strained bladder. He could move his legs, but any move he made sent tingling shockwaves through him and he had the distinct impression that putting weight on his legs might not be such a hot idea. But that didn't deter him from trying. He was in a predicament that demanded he move, because there was no way in hell that he would ask Ruby for help in that department.

Squaring his jaw – which incidentally ached too – he employed every ounce of stamina he could muster and pushed himself up into a sitting position. His spine ached from the base of his neck to the small of his back where the feeling erupted into much more compact pain. He vaguely remembered waking up on the floor after the demons had pounded him into a pulp and he remembered more clearly that Ruby had dragged him up on the bed and ...

His feet hit the wooden floor with a thud that sent a shudder of manageable pain through him while he tried to get a grasp on what she had done. At the time it had felt like she had broken his spine in two, but since he could move and feel his legs now, he assumed she had remedied whatever had made him unable to do so before.

How long had he been out? He blinked sluggishly and moved his stiff neck, rolled his cramped-up shoulders a little and tried to determine how much time had passed. From the more than urgent pressure on his bladder, he assumed he'd been out for quite a while, but it was impossible for him to determine just exactly how much 'quite a while' was.

The soles of his feet tingled, like his legs had been asleep and were only now beginning to wake up again, and it made it difficult to determine if his legs would carry his weight right now. The fact remained that he needed to get to the bathroom one way or another and he needed to do so now.

With every inch of him aching, the thought of how painful getting up and moving was going to be should have convinced him not to do it. But the thought that John Winchester had raised no quitters rose unbidden in his mind and his chapped lips curled into a wry smile, which turned into a strained grimace when he pushed off the bed and got unsteadily to his feet. He felt weak like a newborn kitten, but he had to move, had to get back into the swing of things, so he could get his ass out of here. The sooner the better.

Getting to the bathroom wasn't the hardest part, he realized. Getting back to bed was. Halfway between the bathroom door and the bed, his knees refused to play ball any further and he lost his balance and hit the floor hard on his side. It rattled broken ribs he hadn't been consciously aware of because he had held himself so stiffly and for the longest time he just lay there and tried to get his breathing back under control.

But determination to see this through to the bitter end had taken root and upped his stamina. Even though he essentially believed that Dean was gone, was in Hell, something still kept niggling him that maybe, just maybe, Ruby had lied. And that, if nothing else, drove him to try harder, to bear the pain, and to get the hell out of here as soon as he possibly could.

Before he could muster the strength he needed to get up off the floor, the door opened and Ruby stepped in. She came to a stop when she saw him on the floor. "What the hell are you doing?" she demanded and slammed the door behind her before she strode over to him and reached down to grab his arm.

Although the pain from the broken ribs was bad, he still yanked his arm viciously out of her grip. "Don't touch me," he snarled and pushed himself up. "I don't need your frigging help."

A little stunned, she straightened up and pulled back a step to watch him struggle to get back up on his feet and back to bed. "Is that a fact?" she asked, her tone oddly mellow. "Well, it's good to see that you're feeling better. For a while there I thought you were going to die on me."

He shifted to get more comfortable, not that this was possible at this point, and gave her a dark look. "If you're so damned worried about me, you could have stepped in and stopped them sooner."

She folded her arms over her chest and eyed him with annoyance. "I could have, but I figured you needed to learn the lesson. Don't go up against them when you can't defend yourself. They'll tear you to shreds the next time this happens and I won't be able to stop them. They're not impressed with you at all. Before, they were at least marginally respectful because they thought you would rise to the occasion if they pushed you too far. Now they know you won't. That means you're as good as dead if I can't stop them." She made a face. "They're getting restless. They want action. And they'd be happy to take their restlessness out on you."

"Then why don't you let them? It's clear that you're not impressed either," Sam countered dryly. He wasn't so sure that he should antagonize her right now, but he was pissed off and in pain.

She shook her head lightly and glanced off into the distance for a moment. "I don't know why I bother," she admitted. "I guess I'm still hoping you'll come around and see the light. You have all this power just at your fingertips. All you have to do is tap into it and you could rule the frigging world. And what do you do? You refuse it because it's demonic in nature?" She snorted. "I don't get you."

He stared at her for a moment, then closed his eyes. His back was aching badly right now and he would kill for something that would take the edge off. "What good is this damned ability if all it does is destroy?" he muttered and sighed.

"This ability can do whatever the hell you want it to do. You're the one setting the limits. Not the ability," Ruby said and sighed. "Are you hungry?"

He considered it for a second, then nodded vaguely. Like it or not, he was dependent on her for that purpose right now.

Ruby arched an eyebrow, then rolled her eyes and left again, closing and locking the door behind her.

Sam just lay there and tried not to feel every damned ache in his body. And then he suddenly latched onto what Ruby had just said. The ability could be whatever he wanted it to be? What the hell was that supposed to mean? He shifted a little and hissed at the stab from his broken ribs. This would take months to heal properly and he had already been out of commission for too long. With that on his mind, he started wondering if there was something good in these demon-given abilities. If he could destroy things around him with it, maybe he could ... heal too?

Determined to at least try, he closed his eyes and tried to focus on mending his broken body. He pushed everything else out, focused only on his aching ribs and how good it would feel if they were whole, how good it would feel if they didn't hurt any more. He lulled himself into the idea and pushed the outside world away and lost track of more than time.

***

Somewhere in Texas

The instant need to get up and get moving, to do something other than whatever the hell he had been doing so far was the main drive behind the sudden shift in his equilibrium. For some reason he didn't expect the sudden explosion of pain in his skull nor the cramp-like roll of his stomach that nearly upended him and sent him off the bed.

Before he could take a potentially painful header off the bed – how the hell had he ended up in a bed? – hands grabbed him and pushed him back. "Easy. Moving too much is not such a hot idea right now."

The voice was female, but unfamiliar. The hands holding onto his shoulders were strong and steady, like they were used to dealing with unruly people. All he could consciously bring up on that specific topic was a restrained groan. His head hurt like hell, his vision was blurry, he had the greatest urge to upchuck whatever he had ingested within the past twenty-four hours and he felt like someone had placed a two-ton weight on his chest to top it off.

The hands, calloused and strong yet oddly tender, eased him back into a horizontal position and slowly the thudding in his head, that seemed to encompass his entire body in waves, began to abate. The pain didn't go away, but it lessened to a manageable level. He had no idea if he'd passed out in between, but figured he had because when consciousness returned full blast, the hands were gone and he felt oddly numb.

With an effort, he cracked his eyelids open and strangely detached figured that either his left eye was swollen shut or completely gone. It hurt like a bitch and he couldn't see anything.

Slowly, the world around him shimmered into focus in slices of shadow and light and he blinked sluggishly, first and foremost trying to establish why his left eye didn't work. The sense of swollen flesh – painfully so – manifested itself in his subconscious mind and he drew a quiet sigh of relief. The events that had put him in this cumbersome position popped up like bubble wrap being popped bubble by bubble. Drunk driving coupled with the flu and the gut-wrenching worry that had been his legacy from age four were not good bedfellows it would seem, and the sordid details finally cleared up in his mind, making him once again attempt an already established stupid act of trying to sit up.

"Ho-wow, are you set on undoing everything I've fixed already?" That voice again, those hands on his shoulders, pushing him back.

"My car." It struck him as stupid in a way that the car was the first thing on his mind. Not his brother, not his own whereabouts or whether this woman was friend or foe – though, admittedly, she wasn't much of a foe if she was so concerned about him undoing whatever she had done so far to remedy his appallingly bad condition – but the Impala was a concourse of senses and events to him that made the car as much an extension of himself as his damned arms were.

"Rest easy," the woman said, her tone a mixture of concern and professionalism. "Your car is in good hands."

Somehow it made him want to laugh that she didn't sound annoyed or appalled by his immediate concern. Then he finally managed to focus on her leaning over him. She had settled on the edge of whatever type of bed he was lying on, her hands on his shoulders applying mild pressure in case he should yet again try to get up. Even though his vision wavered in and out of focus – a clear indicator that he had more than just a mild concussion – he shifted his gaze past her and around as much as he could without physically moving his head. The room was odd. It wasn't a hospital, but the bright lights, the crisp white room dividers, and the stinging smell of antiseptics and general medication indicated some kind of field hospital. The walls beyond all the stark whiteness and cleanliness were a dull grey, indicating raw concrete.

"Where am I?" His own voice was unrecognizable. He sounded weak, raspy, sick, even in his own ears.

"Safe for now," she said and managed the first indication of a smile. "I'm Gloria, by the way, your friendly neighborhood nurse." Obviously convinced that he wasn't going to try something stupid right away, she released his shoulders and leaned back a little. "That was quite an accident you had there."

She was actually attractive in a none-Cheerleader-type of way. Some might call her mundane and her eyes told a story of loss and depravation he could relate to without knowing what her background was. It made her look intense and borderline deadly in his experience. If push came to shove, this woman could probably beat the crap out of him if she wanted to. She had a muscular build that came from physical labor ahead of muscle tone acquired in a gym. Her face was round, framed by mousy brownish hair and brown eyes regarded him solemnly from a pale, slightly freckled face. If she made an effort she could be pretty, but he figured there was too much pain in her past for her to care much about her looks these days. "Yeah ... shouldn't drink while I've got the flu," he rasped and cleared his throat, then closed his one good eye. "What's the damage?"

"The flu is the least of your problems," she said. "I'm guessing you've got a concussion from the bump you have on your brow. Who the hell drives around in a car without airbags these days?" It was a rhetorical question, not one she wanted an answer for. "Added to that I'm guessing pressed ribs. Nothing broken, but that doesn't mean it's not gonna hurt. From the rasp on your lungs, I'm guessing pneumonia as well. You haven't been taking care of yourself."

"Got work to do," he pressed out and suddenly wished she would leave him alone.

"Yeah, well, you're not doing anything for a bit here," she said, her tone suddenly determined and a tad steely. "As long as you're in my care, you're bedridden and you will stay that way. Any fuss and I've got restraints I'm not afraid to use and I'm very good at putting them on difficult patients."

He squinted up at her and flinched when a creasing of his brow brought to mind that he had more than damned bump up there. "Is it that bad?"

"Let's put it this way. If you get up now – not that you'd get very far with the concussion and the pressed ribs and the pneumonia and all – I'd give you about a week, maybe two if you push it, before you crash. Considering how very close you got to falling out of bed the first time you woke up, I'd give you a few days. If you don't start taking care of yourself right now, you'll be dead by the end of the month. If you've got work to do, that can't be in your best interest."

The pull of remaining where he was, of having someone actually take care of him for a bit, was very appealing. But the reason for that he was driving himself the way he did – always had, come to think of it – was still out there, somewhere. The rumors said Sam was alive. They also said he had gone bad, but that was not something he was going to waste any time thinking about. "How long d'you think I'm gonna be stuck here?"

Gloria, the friendly neighborhood nurse, eyed him with a look in her eyes he had expected. She was in part appalled, in part stunned and probably a little bit shocked as well. "That depends on how fast you heal. You're not leaving this bed until I say so, though," she said and smiled. "And don't even think for a second that I'm kidding about the restraints."

Despite how he felt in general, achy and bruised and worried sick, he couldn't help a ghost of a smile. He liked her spunk. She was tough, reminded him in part of Ellen, only in a younger version.

The thought of the spunky roadhouse owner made him grimace. Was Ellen okay? What about Jo? "Aw crap," he muttered and draped an arm over his aching face. Like always, the pain centered him for the duration. He couldn't give in and relax, but Gloria had made it very clear that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, so he figured he might as well make the best of it until he could either walk out or sneak out.

"Get some rest. You need it," Gloria said. He felt the bed give a little when she got up and spent the rest of his time awake listening to her puttering around, doing whatever field nurses did when they had only one patient.

***

Pinehearst cabins
Dollar Settlement, Michigan

"Are you gonna lie there forever?" The irritation in Ruby's voice indicated that she had tried to rouse him for a bit.

Sam cracked his eyelids and squinted at her for a second while trying to remember why he would have been so out of it that he hadn't heard her before. Then he remembered his experiment based on her words and he tried to assess his body for a moment. Something had changed. "How long was I out?"

"Two full days," Ruby growled. "I was about to give up on you again."

The bed jostled, either because she had kicked it or pushed it, and Sam realized that if his ribs had still been broken, it should have hurt. A bit disconcerted, he moved his arms, realized that his previously aching shoulder didn't ache any more, and pushed himself up on his elbows. His chest was sore, but there was no way in hell that he had broken ribs now. "Two days?" he muttered and stared down himself. It would take him two days to heal broken bones? Then he glanced up at her.

The way she stood there at the foot end of the bed, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes locked on him, made him realize that she hadn't realized until now what he had been doing for these two days. She looked a little stumped. "That's not exactly what I had in mind for your encore," she said after a moment, then shrugged. "But it's better than you lying around here for the next few weeks, moaning about broken bones."

Still trying to assess how much of the damage done he had been able to reverse, he was caught between elation and fear. His mind was in turmoil at the possibilities and the slippery slope this could be. What if every time he opened up to this crap, he slipped further toward the inevitable? What if he couldn't stop the descent now? Then again, if he could heal himself ... maybe he could heal others? He swallowed and slowly sat up. His back was still aching, but not nearly as bad as before.

Ruby watched him with growing surprise when he slowly got out of bed and tested his legs ability to carry his weight. Still weak, but nothing compared to how he had felt two days ago. He would need to focus on getting back in shape and keeping a low profile until he was back on top. After that, he would have to aim his sights a little higher.

For a moment, he just stood there and stared down himself while he considered what step to take next. Then he looked up to meet Ruby's eyes and something in her stance changed. Her surprise turned to caution and she took an almost hesitant step back. At first he didn't know why and suddenly had the creeping sensation that there was something behind him that might have caused that change in her, but a brief glance over one shoulder showed nothing but empty space and he returned his attention to her only to realize that hers was solely on him. Whatever was making her cautious, he was causing it.

"What?" he asked.

She swallowed, then pulled herself together and tried to take on her former air of overbearing annoyance, but it didn't quite work any more. "Nothing," she growled.

"Fine. Then go get me something to eat. I'm starving," he said and only then realized that his own attitude had changed. The previous caution mixed with a dose of fear had subsided. Now he was merely pissed. Maybe she could pick up on that.

Whatever it was made no difference to him right now. All he wanted was to get back on top, back in shape, and that as fast as possible. The meeting with that hunter ... the only truly human contact he'd had in a while ... had spurred something on in him. Even while the demons had taken turns trying to rip him apart, some part of him had been focused on possibilities that lay beyond lies and deception. There was that little voice in the back of his head that kept chittering excitedly that Dean might not be dead, that his brother might be out there, looking for him. And it pushed him, bolstered him. He needed to fight back, but not until he knew he could handle any backlash these bastards might throw his way. He needed to be physically strong before he could survive another attack like the last one; not that he aimed at letting it get this far again.

Ruby sneered, but the look in her eyes had changed. She didn't view him as pathetic right now. "Whatever," she huffed and left the cabin, slamming the door behind her. But she didn't lock it. He stared at it for a moment, wondering if she was testing how far he would go, and for a moment he considered going out there. But no matter what kind of vibe he gave off right now, he wasn't strong enough to take on any of the others. He needed to regain his strength and he needed to test if this newfound attitude of his was sustainable. Ruby was as good a test subject as any. If he could convince her that he had changed his outlook on things, chances were he could convince the others as well. And that would probably be his way out of here.

The implications of what he had managed as well as what it might mean for his future suddenly overwhelmed him and he sank down on the edge of the bed and had to draw a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. Whatever this was, whatever he would end up being able to do, he would keep it under wraps until he had no other option than to use it.

***