All eyes were on the man at the corner of the table, all eyes were watching.
All eyes were amazed . Four sets of astonished gazes unable to break free.
Dean tucked into his third plateful undeterred.
They had sat down to dinner with quiet anticipation. Grace always cooked, so having Nicki take that honour was a privilege, and a cold white fear.
From their place at the dinner table they had spoken and laughed, enjoyed each others company and caught up on all the town gossip. Sam and Dean had listened intently to Jason as he retold stories from the past few months. Grace had left the room to check on Nicki when Jason launched into another retelling of her public towel moment when the wind had caught the door.
"You ok honey?"
"Aunt Grace what did I tell you?"
"Not to check up on you."
"So what are you doing?"
Grace quickly backed out of the kitchen as a bread roll came flying toward her at high velocity. Jason grinned as she walked back into the dining room, taking her place opposite Dean and next to Sam. Jason sat at the head of the table and spread his arms.
"I told you not to bother her."
"I wasn't bothering her Jason." Grace almost pulled off the innocence but the eyes of the men surrounding her reminded her she could no longer fool them. "Ok, well maybe I was checking up a little bit."
"She doing ok?" Asked Dean as his stomach growled loudly.
"Dude how hungry are you?"
"I'm about to pass out Sam."
Grace patted his arm and gave a wink to Sam. Both pleased that Dean's appetite was finally back to full health, even though his body was still to catch up. He no longer felt sick or had a temperature but he did tire quickly. He'd taken to napping in the afternoon and up until that morning had only wanted sweet foods and toast. But the time to leave was drawing near and both Grace and Nicki were determined that neither brother left until they'd been fattened up. Although the prospect of having to fatten Sam up, given his huge appetite and size, had almost caused Nicki to cancel dinner.
"She seems to be doing alright in there." Sam said as he motioned to the kitchen.
"Wait." Jason held up his hand, dropping it again as the sound of something being knocked over, followed by enough swear words to keep Grace cringing for months to come , could be heard from the kitchen.
"NICKI! NO SWEARING!"
"SORRY AUNT GRACE BUT IT'S ALL GONE TO SHIT." Came the shout back.
"NICKI!" Grace jumped up from the chair and stormed into the kitchen, only to make a hasty retreat when another bread roll was thrown her way.
Ten minutes later and the occupants of the dining room sat staring at five mountain full's of food. Nicki sat beside Dean and smiled at Sam. Jason, from his place at the head of the table, managed to reign in the need to laugh at the looks on the faces around him before Nicki caught his smirk.
Each plate was full on one whole side with mash potato covered in baked beans. On the other side raw carrot , pasta and steak.
"So what do you call this Nicki?"
"Sam this is my own creation, I call it the 'Nickster."
Sam raise his eyebrows as he poked the mash.
"And that Sam, is a volcano."
"Yeah, cheesy mash with baked beans spilled down the middle."
Jason smirked but looked away before Nicki could reprimand him with one of her looks.
"Sam are you going to write an essay on it or try it?"
"You have pasta with it."
"So, I've never had that combination before. I'm sure it'll be great."
"Well Dean seems to like it." Said Grace as she watched the older Winchester fill his fork with steak, mash and carrot before shovelling it into his mouth.
"This is damn good." He mumbled around the mouthful, ignoring the laughs as he shovelled another forkful in. Nicki leant over and kissed his cheek. Dean, not to be distracted from his food, threw her a quick wink and began his shovelling all over again.
That was two plateful's ago, he was currently on his third while everyone else was enjoying a coffee. Nicki beamed as she watched Dean eat. He'd mumbled something about it being the 'best godamned meal ever' and had then asked for more.
Grace watched amused while Sam sat there slightly in awe of how much his brother could eat.
"Dean eating his own body weight in volcano and pasta? Yes, yes I do."
"THAT, is how you should eat my meals. With gratitude and as though it were the best meal ever."
"Dean's eating that way because it's his first proper meal in over a week. No wonder he's full of gratitude. And considering all his other meals were toast and cookies, it is the best meal he's had this week."
"Hey!" Protested Grace.
"Sorry Grace, the soup was great." Jason threw her a wink and watched as she melted.
"Dean you ok?" Sam had noticed his brother flinch and the colour drain a little.
"Yeah, just please don't mention that soup."
"Hey!" Protested Grace again.
While Jason and Dean got lost in a conversation about classic cars and their upkeep, Grace pulled Sam into the kitchen.
Nicki stood by the sink, a box in her hands, wrapped in shiny purple paper with a big silver bow.
"Sam honey, Nicki and I wanted to get you a gift. You've been lacking in attention this week and seeing as you're leaving tomorrow we figured we'd get you something to remind you of home and something you can use again when the time comes."
"You didn't have to." Sam walked forward as Grace guided him into a seat at the kitchen table.
"It's the least we could do for all the smiles you bring us."
"I brought you high temperatures and vomiting."
"Well, true, next time maybe skip that part."
"Don't worry Sam," Said Nicki as she placed the box in front of him. "We have a gift for Dean too."
"Although his is cookies so I'm sure the way he's going tonight they won't last. But this will honey."
Sam smiled up at the two women. Gratitude and love evident in his eyes. He truly adored being here , and he really felt that if there were people like this out there then good would always prevail. He was sure Dean would start to believe it too. Given enough time.
Taking a deep breath Sam began to unwrap the large box, he pulled off the bow carefully, then worked his way around the edges of the paper to look for the join to begin pulling the tape off.
"Are you kidding me?" Asked Nicki incredulously.
"Honey let him do it his own way."
"At this rate he'll never get into the damn thing."
"Damn isn't swearing."
"Yes it is and I don't like it. You've picked that up from Dean I'm sure."
Sam smirked and then grinned proudly up at Nicki as he hooked his fingers beneath the tape and carefully peeled the paper from the box. He stared dumbly for a few seconds at the writing on the outside.
He glanced at Grace and Nicki who urged him to continue into the box. As he opened the corners he couldn't keep the blush that crept up his neck and across his skin, turning his face a bright red colour.
"Twelve bottles." Pointed out Nicki.
"With squeezy tops that don't spill when pushed over." Whispered Grace as she ruffled his hair and walked away giggling.
Nicki tried to hide her smile behind her hands but had to give in as Sam sat staring dumbly into the box.
"Got your cookies?"
Dean smiled and let her wipe the crumbs from his mouth.
"I didn't think they'd last so I baked you some more. Sam has them in a container in the car."
"You gave them to Sam?"
"He promised to not eat them all."
"Eat what?" Asked Sam as he came to stand by Dean.
"Don't eat all the cookies, save some for Dean."
"I think he's had enough."
"Dude half of those cookies are mine."
"Dean learn to share."
"Bet you're gonna add ketchup to your half."
Sam threw Grace a frown and ignored the innocent look she tried to appease him with.
"Take care Grace, and thanks again." Sam pulled the older woman close to him and wrapped her in an embrace she returned with just as much love. She rubbed his back as she felt his warmth surrounding her.
"You be careful now you hear? And I want to see you soon."
Sam kissed Grace on the cheek and moved to shake hands with Jason and hug Nicki goodbye once she was finished squeezing the air out of Dean.
The younger woman let go of Dean slowly, wiping her eyes and hitting him on his arm.
"What was that for?"
"A thank you , for eating all my meal."
"It was gorgeous Nicki."
Nicki smiled as the world tiled slightly, she wiped her forehead and blinked quickly to clear her vision.
"I'm good, go say goodbye to Grace, I got me Sam to say goodbye to still." Nicki turned and let herself get lost in Sam's arms.
Dean stepped forward toward Grace, he kept his head down as he swallowed quickly and cleared his throat.
"So, I , err, guess this is.."
"It's see you later."
Dean looked up and allowed Grace to pull him into an embrace. She held him tightly and felt her heart swell as he returned the embrace.
"I'll see you soon."
"You better baby, or I'll be out there looking for you."
"Yeah?" Laughed Dean into Grace's shoulder.
"You bet. And take care of that man mountain won't you."
"You let him take care of you too."
Dean held Grace tighter, pulling in his emotions and getting ready to leave her. Although this time he felt different. This time he felt like it wasn't really goodbye. It really was see you soon.
They really would be back.
His heart didn't ache for the leaving, it ached for the return.
He pulled away slowly and smiled fully at Grace. There was no pain, there was no remorse. There was just this place to keep within his heart. A reason to fight, finally a reward that was all theirs. Their payment for the hunt wasn't money, wasn't always thanks, it was Grace and Nicki and a place to call home.
Sam smiled and nodded at his brother. Somehow these strangers who had taken them in had shown each brother a side they hadn't seen of the other, a side they now recognised and appreciated. They needed the break, needed the solace, and Grace's home was their sanctuary.
"Sam where are the cookies?"
There was a slight pause before both brothers sprinted off at full speed in an attempt to win the prize first. Sam may have been the taller but he lacked in agility and Dean easily slid over the front of the car, jumped into the driver's side and held the cookies aloft like he'd just won an Oscar.
Sam pouted as he stood by the door, he felt a hand at his back ,he reached around as a bag of cookies was pushed into hand. He carefully climbed into the seat , keeping his own prize hidden from his ever hungry brother.
Both brothers waved from their respective windows as Dean peeled the Impala from the parking lot and made his way down the main street. Jason walked down the road toward the garage in awe as the purr of the car disappeared into the distance.
Grace once again found herself at the side of the road, watching as her boys drove away, her breath leaving a slow trail from her mouth into the sky above. She hugged her arms across her body and willed the time to speed up.
"Yes Nicki honey?"
"I think I'm gonna puke."
I can't thank you all enough for your encouragement and kind words!! Thank you so much for coming on this ride with me!! I wish i could send you Sam and Dean as a thankyou but they're currently locked in my cupboard so you'll have to wait for them to free themselves.
Before i go watch Nightshifter for the seventh time i want to thank you again. Take care, and i'll see you the next time i feel the need to abuse Dean