Bobby's salvage yard
Fort Pierre, SD
Two weeks later

The sound of footsteps on gravel rattled him because he hadn't heard it in a while. Because of the silence and the loneliness surrounding him in the empty house in this empty town, he spent a lot of time plowing through books and always ended up falling asleep early in the morning either on the couch or slumped over one of the many books at the kitchen table and then slept well into the day. And the front door was almost open all the time, which allowed the sound of those footsteps to pry him out of the light sleep that was customary for him now.

A bit disoriented, he got off the couch and stumbled out onto the porch, and he instantly blamed the disorientation for the fact that he hadn't considered a weapon. What stunned him, though, was that there was nobody in sight. Unsettled, he wondered if he had dreamed it, but he still made his way down the steps to the yard. The moment his feet made contact with the soil, though, he was convinced that there were people around. He could almost feel them.

That thought settled heavily on his mind and he glanced down at the ground and at his bare feet. How the hell could he feel others? It was almost like he could hear their heartbeats ... no, strike that, he could feel their heartbeats. It vibrated upward from the ground through his feet. Three distinct heartbeats. He frowned lightly, then hunkered down and pressed his right palm against the dusty ground. The feeling of those heartbeats intensified, but he still could not see anyone around.

Confusion was the dish of the day, it seemed. He rose again and wiped his palm on the seat of his pants while scanning the area. And then they turned up. Three people on foot. They stopped short at the entrance of the salvage yard and all three of them zeroed in on him immediately.

It was hard to tell if they were friendly, though. They looked cautious, tired, two men and one woman, all dressed for travel, all wearing backpacks. "Hi," one of the men said and raised a hand in greeting after having visually inspected the immediate area, obviously searching for others apart from Sam. "We're looking for Bobby Singer. Is he home?"

Sam hadn't been aware of how much he had missed contemporary human companionship until they spoke to him and he thanked his training since childhood that he didn't have a damned breakdown right then and there. Rather than display his true feelings – overwhelming relief at seeing other people after this long – he instead watched those three wearily while trying to sense if they were anything other than what they appeared to be, namely human. But he got nothing but human vibes from them. Whether that meant a whole lot on the grand scale was unclear at this point, but he had become aware of that he could sense others. The 'sound' of footsteps had probably been his sleep-riddled mind's way of alerting him to this new sense. "Uh ... no, I'm sorry. He hasn't been here for a while," he finally managed and pensively raked the fingers of his left hand through his hair.

The speaker nodded. "Didn't think so. But we had to try," he said, his expression one of disappointment and vague caution. "I'm Frank. That's Ethan and Marge. We're looking for survivors. You see anyone else around?"

Frank seemed nice enough, but Sam got a darker vibe from Marge. She seemed suspicious of him for some reason. "No, nobody," he said. "I've been here for about a month. Nobody's come through here."

"A month?" Marge spoke up. "Why'd you choose to hang around here that long?" Even her voice carried that vibe of suspicion. She looked to be around forty and reminded him a little bit of Ellen. But the former Roadhouse owner had never given him the willies like this woman did, not even when she'd aimed a shotgun at him the first time they'd met.

Something told Sam that these guys were hunters. That in and off itself made him abstain from telling them that he'd spend god knew how long with the demons, not that it would make good initial conversation anyway. If possible, he would probably have avoided telling Dean about it too, just because he knew how much this sort of thing had worried his brother. The thought of Dean made him grasp at the straw that these three represented in his world; a source of information. He just hoped they knew something. "Just trying to regroup. I didn't know if Bobby was coming back, but I guess he's not," he said after a moment.

"Doesn't look like it," Ethan agreed. "We're gonna move on, try and find a city somewhere that's not dead," he added. Of the three, Ethan seemed to be the most laid back. "You should come with us."

Marge bristled instantly, but said nothing when Frank shot her a warning glare.

Sam considered how to ask them what he needed to know and figured barging right out with it might be the best course of action. Frank seemed to be the leader of this little group, so he turned his attention fully to him. "Do you know Dean Winchester?"

The older man's expression was hard to read and Sam couldn't determine if the guy knew something and was covering it up or if he was just drawing a blank on the name. "Uh ... no, I can't say that I do. Why?"

Frank's tone sounded cautious now and Sam wondered if he'd just messed up. "I'm just ... looking for him and ... never mind," he said and shrugged, hoping to somehow put this back into the box he'd just sprung it from.

"How'd you get here?" Frank's question wasn't exactly hostile, but it was laced with suspicion and it put Sam's senses on high alert instantly. After Gordon, he had a hard time trusting other hunters. You never knew when they might turn on you.

"I drove." It slipped out before he could consciously consider what it might do. These guys were on foot, which could indicate that they hadn't had any luck with cars. Which again made him wonder how it was possible that he did.

"You ... drove?" Marge asked, equal parts stunned and suspicious. "How's that possible? Cars don't work in this area."

Sam shot a sideways glance at the Cherokee while that vibe he got from the ground clearly told him that the situation had just changed. He was unarmed, but Frank was close enough to be overpowered if need be. In reply to Marge's demanded question, he shrugged lightly. "Don't know. I just did," he said.

"What'd you say your name was?" Frank asked and suddenly eyed him suspiciously.

It was a hard thing, maintaining constant suspicion. He figured it wasn't part of his general nature to be that way and as such he had little to no control over the fact that he responded to that question. "Sam," he said. It didn't mean much on the bigger scale of things. How many hunters actually knew about him, after all? And they didn't know Dean, so chances were they didn't know him either.

The look in the trios eyes, however, made him take a cautious step back. "As in Winchester?" Marge asked and narrowed her eyes at him before ripping out her gun. Frank was slower to follow suit and Ethan didn't respond at all at first, but looked more confused by the change of the situation. He was either a newbie or not a hunter at all.

Frank's hesitation was enough to make Sam react, though. He lunged forward and ripped the weapon out of the man's hand before he could bring it to bear on him and before the older man had any idea what hit him, Sam had an arm around his throat and had him pulled tightly back against him while aiming the gun at Marge. "Drop your gun," he said quietly. "I don't want to hurt anyone, but I will defend myself."

Marge kept her gun trained on him, although Frank was now in the way, and Ethan had yet to draw his weapon, even though Sam got the distinct impression that he would very soon. He did intend to end this without bloodshed. He did intend to convince these three that he wasn't the bad guy here. But Marge took that decision out of his hands. Her expression tensed and she pulled the trigger. The problem was just that her aim was either lousy or off, because she hit Frank instead, killing him instantly. Sam responded on instinct and out of pure self-preservation and blew her away. She was dead before she hit the ground. And that obviously left Ethan with no other option than to rip his gun out when Sam released Frank's deadweight.

Before he could do anything other than raise his hands in a deprecating gesture, Ethan fired and clipped his left shoulder. Again, the man was either a lousy shot or too nervous to aim straight. Either way, the hit ripped Sam back a step and again instinct took over and he fired the gun again, once more hitting his target dead center.

The echo of the shot died away instantly, leaving a stunned silence behind where Sam neither moved nor thought. For a moment he just stood there, the gun now aimed at empty space, his breath coming in controlled little huffs, until the pain from the grace wound made itself known and yanked him back into the real world. He let the gun drop and wrapped his right hand around his bleeding upper arm, but could not take his eyes off the carnage. Killing these three had been the last thing on his mind. Hell, it hadn't been on his mind at all. But he now knew that he would defend himself to the death. But could he somehow have prevented this?

He snorted. Sure he could. He could just have used an alias. Obviously, these three had seen him as a threat, which probably meant that Gordon's delusions had spread before the man's death. Sam swallowed hard and took a step back. He would have to deal with the bodies, would have to salt and burn them just to be safe, and then he would have to leave, to get the hell away from here. If those three had known to look up Bobby, others might follow, and he wasn't so sure he would be so lucky a second time.

"Shit," he whispered hoarsely and sent a look around the immediate area. There was nobody else around. All was silent. At least for a moment. Then he picked up on another heartbeat, the sense of someone else around. Concern shot through him, fear of another confrontation, and he hunkered down to pick up the gun again. He couldn't tell where the owner of this heartbeat was, which direction he should look in, and it made him anxious. At least until he spotted the new arrival. For a long moment he just stood and stared at the big, black dog that had trotted into the salvage yard. It looked scrawny, undernourished, and he had no doubt that it had been attracted by the smell of blood.

Dark eyes regarded him suspiciously and Sam figured he'd better get a move on and get rid of the bodies before they attracted other, less manageable things. Like maybe demons? He somehow had the feeling that they were attracted to carnage and this looked like it to him. He eyed the dog for a moment, then aimed the gun at the sky and fired a shot. The critter took off at a run, leaving him behind, and for a moment he felt a little sorry about it. He liked dogs, but he had no idea if that one had been friendly or tame for that matter. It was best not dwell on things like that.

With a sigh, he shoved the gun into the back of his jeans and went in search of a shovel. He needed a hole, gasoline and salt. And matches, of course. It felt like old familiar territory even though he had just been forced to kill two people. A part of him was a bit disconcerted by the fact that he didn't feel worse about it, but he figured it would come later, when he had time to sit down and think about it. Until then, he had to deal with the situation at hand and figure out where to go from here.

***

The hunter's hideout
Texas

Being stationary was something that didn't suit him. He had known that up front, but had never been more aware of it than he was now. It wasn't so much the staying in one place that got to him. It was the not knowing others. He hated being here alone, without family, without anyone around he could trust. One and a half months had passed since he'd driven the Impala off the road and he knew that on some level, he had generally intended to kill himself without really wanting to admit it. But there were those little nagging doubts that made him cling to life like nobody's business. Because ... what if the deal wasn't done? What if he went straight to Hell if he died? And Sam was still out there. What if he needed help? What if he needed his big brother?

With nothing to do and nobody apart from Steve and Gloria to talk to, he spent a lot of time idling around and that really didn't do him any favors. After the worst of his injuries had healed up, he had started using the gym – the fact that this place had a gym had surprised him a little – but he usually did it when nobody else was around. The others freaked him out on some level. Moira especially. She was just about the world's biggest bitch without being a demon and he found himself comparing her to Ruby time and time again. Every time he saw her, that connection popped up in his mind. And based on that, his thoughts snapped to his brother, which again made him edgy because he felt like he should be out there looking for Sam rather than sitting on his ass, doing nothing.

Steve had repeated his previous assessment and promised information as it became available, but so far all he had heard about Sam had been horrifying. But none of the people he had heard these stories from had seen it first hand. Everybody had heard it from someone else and Dean dared hope that what they relayed were vicious rumors and nothing else. He couldn't imagine Sam doing half the things they accused him of and the rest of it just didn't make any sense anyway. At least not to him.

Moira, of course, pounced on it immediately, spouting crap and inciting others to join her in her delusion. And the thought of that woman made him sneer. A few of the others had started to warm up to him and were talking to him, but there really wasn't anyone among them that he felt he could trust. Gloria was the closest he got to having a confidant even though he didn't tell her half the things that ran through his mind and censored the other half heavily. But she was open to just about anything, a fact she had proven when he'd stumbled across a bottle of whiskey and tried to drown his concerns with little luck. It had affected his memory while the buzz lasted and he had found himself in her bed the following morning, the taste and feel of cotton wool in his mouth while a very noisy parade was trampling through his head. Being a nurse, she had a remedy for hangovers that worked and an hour after waking up, he had felt better. She had assured him that their encounter, of which he remembered next to nothing, hadn't meant anything other than a mutual need to blow off steam and she didn't go all gooey over him either, which suited him just fine. He liked Gloria, but wasn't interested in anything remotely permanent.

The thought that the opportunity might present itself again without it becoming more than just a casual encounter somehow settled him a little. But it didn't really make him feel better on the whole. Nothing really would until he found Sam. And some part of him was fearing that moment. The what-ifs were getting bigger and harder to subdue all the time and the more evil rumors he heard about his brother, the harder he had to fight to hang on to his inherent faith in Sam's gentle nature. Because, like it or not, Sam hadn't exactly been heading in that direction for a while now. Not since Jake had killed him and Dean had been forced to make that damned deal to bring him back. Not since old Yellow-Eyes had asked him that sixty-four thousand dollar question. Was he sure that what he had brought back was one hundred percent Sam?

In an attempt to do something other than just sit around and wait for whatever might come next, he had figured he might make himself useful and help out a little around the place. And one thing these guys were very short on were EMF-meters. And he knew how to build those. And there was a storage room full of old junk that presented nothing short of a treasure trove.

He fished another broken walkman out of a box, eyed it for a moment, and dumped it in the box he was collecting the spare parts in, while his thoughts yet again snapped back to his brother. In part, he knew he was focusing so much on Sam because he heard rumors about him. What he didn't let himself touch on too much were Bobby and Grace. Bobby had been family for as long as he could remember and Grace was his aunt. The thought of losing either of them sent a shiver up his spine. The thought of losing both ... He just couldn't handle that, so he focused on Sam instead. With his brother, there was still a fairly good chance that he was still alive, whether he was still himself or not. Dean held onto the faith that even if Sam wasn't himself any more, there would be a way to reverse it. There just had to be. Whatever had been done to Sam, it could be undone. All Dean had to do was find him and keep him alive long enough for that to happen. Once he got that far, he could always consider what steps to take next.

The junk-room, as Steve called it, was more than just a room. It was huge, more a hall than a room, and at present he was near the end of it, methodically going through the boxes for stuff he could use. Anything was better than having to focus on why he was here and not out there searching for Sam. With a sigh, he hunkered down and pulled another box out and eyed the contents.

The sound of the heavy door clanging shut down at the other end briefly caused him to pause, but he didn't really care who else was looking for parts right now. As long as it wasn't Moira. He sneered helplessly. There were very few people in this world he could claim to hate. Actually, come to think of it, he couldn't really claim to hate any. He got angry at some, despaired at others, but he didn't actively hate anyone. That kind of emotional drain he reserved for the dark things out there, the ones that had deprived him of everything that had ever mattered to him. Azazel and Ruby and the entire frigging hoards of Hell. But in Moira's case he was willing to make an exception. Moira was hate-worthy. He wasn't quite there yet, hadn't worked up enough anger to claim hatred towards her, but she was definitely stomping on his last nerve.

Steve had told her to pack it up several times and she always piped down when he told her to, but that didn't stop her from starting back up the second he was out the door.

Dean stared into the box for a moment and realized that he wasn't focusing on what he was doing. With that realization, his sense of his surroundings snapped back into place and he instantly had the distinct impression that someone was watching him.

Slowly, he shifted his gaze sideways and frowned at a pair of worn worker boots and somewhat frazzled and dusty jeans. In his preoccupation over Sam's absence and this highly annoying element in his life right now named Moira, he had managed to not only ignore that someone was approaching him, but that someone was around in the first place. Bad call when he considered that his father had raised him to be vigilant even in sleep.

"Dean?"

He blinked, his gaze still locked on those boots. Some part of his brain just didn't want to click things into place right now. Then he scrolled upwards before straightening up, the spare parts forgotten. Somehow, he just couldn't put things together right now. He had no idea how to react. "Son of a ..." In part he had intended for it to be forceful, to relay what he felt right now, but his voice was downright feeble, nearly a whisper lacking strength and emotion. "Bobby?"

***

Regina, Saskatchewan
Canada

All things considered, Sam had never consciously considered that the events that had decreased the population to zero in the majority of the towns he'd come through since leaving the demons behind was something that had spread beyond the borders of the US. But crossing the border into Canada had been a simple affair – the border had been wide open and there had been nobody around to stop him or ask questions – and none of the towns he'd come through so far had contained any life apart from local wildlife, a few stray dogs and other critters people had kept as pets.

Regina, however, was fully populated and judging by the tents and caravans parked around the town limit, he supposed that a lot of the people from the smaller towns surrounding Regina had pulled into the big city.

He had spent one week in town because he had no damned clue which way to go. He knew he needed to return to the States and he knew where to get across the border without problems, but after having been forced to kill three hunters, he was weary of talking to anyone and more than a little cautious about anyone finding out who he was.

In part, he was a bit concerned about his present choice of location, but he figured it had a lot to do with the way he had grown up. Dad had never had any issues with dragging them both into bars at all times of the day. For John Winchester it had been about keeping them together. The only times he hadn't seen it that way had been when he'd had to go hunting.

Sam shifted a little on the chair and sent a furtive glance around the bar. He had chosen a table close to the door, but still out of the way. The beer he had bought – paid for with the cash he had found at Bobby's place – was going warm and he hadn't even tasted it yet. He wasn't really in the mood for beer. All he wanted was information, but he wasn't sure how to go about getting it. And his newfound ability was messing with him right now. His head was pounding along with the heartbeats of every person in the bar and he realized he would have to work on subduing this sense in some way. If he kept his hands clear of any surface that was in touch with the floor, the thudding decreased, but it was still noticeable enough to give him a headache. And one week of this was all he could take. Being in close proximity to others was enough to set it off. When he was alone, though, away from towns and people, he felt nothing.

Tired and despondent, he finally decided to get a move on, to get himself back across the border and back into the fray of things, when a snippet of conversation drifted his way.

"... said something about this guy. What was his name? You know, that tough guy we ran across some years ago."

"Winchester?"

"Yeah, him. What was his first name again?"

"I think it was John, as far as I remember. But I haven't heard anything about him in a good long while. He kinda dropped off the map a few years back. Probably got ganked some critter. The way he always went after them like it was all there was, it wouldn't surprise me."

Sam sneered lightly and tightened his grip on the bottle while listening intently to the conversation. He had no idea who was talking, but they might offer some kind of insight he could use, some hint about another Winchester.

"Yeah, well ... anyway, this guy who knows a guy said something about him. Although ... I'm not sure it was him. Did he have kids?"

"Yeah, he did. Two boys. One of them's gone rouge from what I hear."

"Rouge? No shit. What happened? He got possessed or something?"

"Nah, nothing like that. I talked to this joker who knew this guy, Gordon Walker, and he said the kid ... the younger one ... was somehow tied into all this crap coming down on us right now. Like he's leading the frigging army of hellions or something."

Suddenly very self-conscious, Sam sent a quick look around the bar, trying to spot whoever was talking, and he fixated on two older men, one of them with a nasty-looking scar down the side of his face. They weren't interested in the other patrons of the bar and were deeply engrossed in their conversation.

"No shit, man," Scarface said and arched an eyebrow. "Guess we'd better be careful then, eh?"

"Yeah, from what I hear, the kid set Walker up and he ended up behind bars," the other guy said. "But that's not the worst of it. I've heard from others that they've seen him in action, killing people with his bare hands and shit like that. Makes you wonder what it takes to take him down."

Very aware that any frantic movements of his would attract unwanted attention, Sam carefully pushed the chair back, got up and headed toward the door as slowly as he dared. He kept his head down and his back hunched, hoping desperately that these bozos didn't spot him and recognize him. Only when the door of the bar had closed behind him did he allow himself to exhale a shuddering breath. Things were a hell of a lot worse than he had feared. Those three hunters he had been forced to take out hadn't been an accident. It would appear that Ruby had been extremely busy, spreading rumors about him among the other hunters. And that in and of itself would make his life very difficult from now on.

One thing was for sure. He would need to steer clear of other people from now on. Shaken to his very core and with the heartbeats of thousands of people suddenly pounding in his head, he strode over to the Cherokee, got in and drove out of town as fast as he dared. Once in the car, the impact of the heartbeats of others lessened and once he was out of the city, it ceased completely.

***

The hunters hideout
Texas

It was the shift from not daring to think about it to actually seeing the man standing there that stopped him dead in his tracks. For some reason that he had no control over right now, seeing Bobby standing there made him just incapable of moving. At first he couldn't explain it, couldn't for the life of him understand why he couldn't respond, but then he realized that Bobby eyed him with something akin to suspicion and it hit him right there and then that he felt the same way.

"Bobby?" he repeated, his voice almost hoarse. "I thought ..."

The older hunter kept eying him. "Yeah?" he finally said. "So did I."

"I ... got back to Fort Pierre and ... everybody was gone. You ... and ..." He shook his head, concern and confusion vying for control with sheer relief and happiness. "Jesus, Bobby, I thought you guys were dead," he finally exclaimed and before he could consciously consider further actions, he had his arms around the older man and was damned near crying, he was that relieved.

Bobby hesitated a second, then sighed and hugged him back hard enough to bruise his ribs. "Dammit, boy, we thought the same," he finally said and pushed back. "You look like crap, Dean," he added in his usual gruff way.

Dean would have countered with the same, but couldn't really convince himself that Bobby looked bad, because it was just so damned good to see a friendly face. "I know," he admitted reluctantly and took a step back. Then he focused fully on Bobby again. "You said we. Grace is with you?" Hope was a curious thing, really. One second there was none of it at all, like it had been crushed and burned and laid to rest. And all it took was one little shift and it grew like weeds on speed.

"Sure she's with me," Bobby agreed. "You think I'd risk your wrath by letting her out of my sight?" This he said with a smile. "Turns out your aunt is a natural at all this crap. She takes to it like a fish to water."

Dean scrubbed a hand over his lips, not sure whether he should laugh or cry right now. Were things finally going his way? Was this a sign for a better future? He almost chuckled at the thought. "Man, I'm just ... when I got back to Fort Pierre and you guys weren't there ... I thought the worst."

"Yeah, well, I had a hell of a time convincing Grace to leave in the first place. She wanted to sit it out, wait for you. But we had to leave. I got a glimpse of what happened to all those other towns and it wasn't pretty," Bobby said.

"Demons?" Dean asked.

Bobby nodded, his expression tense. "I've never seen nothing like that before and I sure as hell hope I never do again," he said.

"What happened? I mean ... I've only seen the after-effects of it and that's not pretty," Dean queried. "Oh, and by the way, the tattoo works. Got a chance to try it out."

"Try it out? What did you do?"

It was obvious that Bobby thought he'd put himself in unnecessary danger just to test the validity of the tattoo. "I got to some town after dark, couldn't find a place to stay, so I slept in the car. And suddenly I was just ... surrounded by black smoke. But it disappeared again, so I assume that's because of the tattoo," Dean explained.

His explanation obviously settled Bobby's nerves somewhat and the older hunter nodded. "Good to hear," he muttered. "Let's go find your aunt. She needs to know you're still up and running," he added and waved toward the door.

***