Author's Note: This is sort of a sequel to my previous story 'Life Is A Highway' – thanks very much to KatieLB for giving me the idea! :) Hope it turned out ok... And while I'm here I'd just like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who's been kind enough to review my other stories. It really does make my day and you've all been lovely! :)
Dean tried to ease some of the tension in his neck without getting Sam's attention. He surreptitiously shifted his head and winced when he heard something click. Annoyingly of course Sam had a habit of knowing what was going on with him at all times, just as he did with Sam, and so he turned away from looking at the view out of the window and looked at Dean with a frown.
"You ok?" he said.
Dean clenched his jaw. "I'm fine Sam" he said, trying not to let irritation leak into his voice. Sam meant well, it was just Dean was so sick of being asked if he was ok every five minutes. He was seriously thinking of having a t-shirt with I'M FINE - REALLY printed in huge black letters right across it.
Sam sighed but didn't pursue it. He knew given the mood Dean had been in the past few days there was no point. The atmosphere in the Impala was almost unbearable since Dean had admitted to Sam how he really felt about John's death and his own miraculous recovery. Sam had been stunned by the revelation and was at a loss as to how to fix things for his brother. And that's exactly what he wanted to do. Seeing Dean in so much pain had felt like someone stabbing him right in the heart. He'd been so shocked to see his usually stoic big brother admitting his feelings aloud, and by what Dean had actually said, that his brain had frozen before he'd been able to come up with a reasonable response. By the time he could almost think straight again, Dean's walls had been firmly back up in place. Asking Sam to 'leave it' Dean had simply got back in the car and carried on driving.
That had been the day before yesterday and since then Dean had barely said two words. The previous night they'd stopped at a motel and Dean had gone out for a walk while Sam was taking a shower. He'd at least left a note, but that didn't mean Sam had worried any less for the two hours he'd been gone. He'd said nothing when he got back, except that Sam needn't have waited up for him, and by the time he'd come out of the shower Sam had lost his battle to stay awake. Dean had been up before him again this morning, as he seemed to be every morning these days, and all he'd said to Sam was that they needed to get back on the road.
They were travelling North, to follow up on reports of what might be some sort of werewolf type animal. They were about three hundred miles from their destination still and Sam's back and legs were numb from being coped up in the passenger seat for so long. Not to criticize Dean's 'baby' but she was not comfortable for four hours plus when you were over 6" tall. They'd only stopped once so far, at Sam's insistence, for some food around lunchtime. Not that Dean had eaten much. Something else that was worrying Sam these days. And he hadn't let Sam do any of the driving either. It was now early evening and beginning to get dark, but as Sam looked out at the forest they were passing suddenly something clicked.
"Hey Dean? Isn't this the road we ran out of gas on? When we met Toby and Jean?" he said, turning to face him.
Dean glanced over to the left and frowned for a second before nodding.
"Yeah, you might be right. Huh – I hadn't realised this trip would put us back on this road again" he said, sounding thoughtful.
Sam stayed silent for a moment and then decided to risk it.
"Do you think we could stop by and say hi? They did ask us to come back and see them next time we were passing" he said tentatively.
Dean thought about it for a minute. Truth was the idea of seeing the old couple was pretty appealing right now. They'd been so caring and thoughtful last time, helping them out of a tight spot and expecting nothing in return. They'd only been with them for maybe two hours tops, but it had felt like they'd known them years somehow by the time they parted company. He felt a sudden pang of longing as he thought of the homely kitchen and the warm welcome they would most likely receive. It had only been six months since they'd last been here but with all that had happened it felt like a lifetime. Dean wasn't the same person as he'd been back then, everything that had happened recently taking it's toll, and he longed to slow down just for a minute and let somebody else take control. Especially since his conversation with Sam two days ago. Talking was supposed to make you feel better but it had only made Dean feel worse. He'd seen the shock on his brother's face and the way Sam kept shooting him worried glances wasn't lost on him.
Hearing Sam's voice Dean realised he'd got lost in thought. Shaking his head he shrugged.
"I guess we could stop by, just for a minute. We shouldn't go empty handed though" he said and Sam nodded.
"Good idea. Why don't we carry on into town and pick something up for both of them and then double back – it shouldn't take long" he said and Dean nodded.
Less than thirty minutes later they pulled up in front of the town's local store. Sam got out gratefully, stretching abused muscles with a groan. Dean glared at him.
"You better not be implying my car's uncomfortable Sam" he said and Sam rolled his eyes.
"I'm sure it's not – if you're short" he said innocently, knowing how defensive Dean was of being a few inches shorter than his 'little' brother.
"Oh you so did not just go there" said Dean and Sam just smirked at him as they walked towards the store.
Dean shook his head, putting the comment to one side for retribution later. He couldn't help but smile to himself though. It was the first time he and Sam had joked about anything for weeks, and it felt good. Normal even. He could see Sam felt it too by the grin he was giving him. Rolling his eyes and shoving Sam with his shoulder, they went inside.
Despite the connection they'd made with the couple, neither of them actually knew that much about them from the brief time they'd spent with them. They decided to play it safe and go with a bottle of Scotch for Toby and a bunch of flowers for Jean. They just hoped Toby wasn't tee-total.
Retracing their journey it only took them twenty minutes to reach the turn off for the couple's home. Turning onto the dirt track Dean guided the Chevy along carefully, watching out for potholes. Sam chuckled at the care Dean was taking going 'off road' with his precious car and watched the trees as they passed them.
"This is easier than the route we took last time" he said dryly and Dean smirked.
"You got that right" he replied, thinking of their scramble through the forest with only a small flashlight to guide them. They'd been lucky to come away from the experience with only a sprained ankle between them.
"Here we go" he said suddenly, as the lights of Toby and Jean's house appeared in front of them.
"I hope we're not disturbing them" said Sam, suddenly feeling a little nervous. There was a difference between asking someone to drop in 'next time you're passing' and having them arrive on your doorstep unannounced.
"Too late to worry about that now, Sammy" said Dean.
Sam looked at him in surprise. With the tenseness of the last few weeks it had been a while since Dean had called him that. Feeling pleased rather than annoyed for once he said nothing, just smiled to himself.
Coming to a stop, Dean switched off the engine and they both got out. Sam found himself straightening his clothes nervously and when he looked up Dean was smirking at him. Sam glared at him, which only made Dean smirk more. Sam did note with some satisfaction though that as they went up the steps onto the porch Dean looked nervous too.
Glancing briefly at Sam, Dean knocked on the door.
"Coming" called Jean as she walked towards the door. Opening it, she saw Dean and Sam and her face lit up.
"Oh, my – Dean, Sam! It is so good to see you boys again" she said, smiling warmly at them.
Both of them couldn't help but return the smile.
"We were just passing and wanted to say hello" said Dean.
"Oh I'm so glad you did, and Toby will be too. He's just running some errands in town but he's due back any moment. Come on in" she said.
Sam suddenly realised he was still holding the bunch of flowers and brought them forward.
"These are for you" said Sam, handing them to her.
"They are beautiful!" said Jean, inhaling their scent "You shouldn't have"
"It's the least we could do after you were so kind to us before" said Dean, blushing slightly less than he had last time as Jean hugged him and then Sam.
"Oh that was our pleasure my dear. Now come and sit down. I was just getting dinner ready – you'll join us won't you?" she said ushering them into the kitchen.
"We don't want to interrupt" said Sam but Jean as already waving away the objections.
"Nonsense – we'd love you to stay. Now make yourselves comfortable" she said.
Grinning at Dean Sam sat down at the table, Dean sitting down opposite him. They were in exactly the same seats as they were last time. Sam found himself wishing that it was that easy to turn the clock back. Catching sight of the wistful look on Dean's face Sam guessed his brother was thinking the same thing.
Reaching out Sam nudged Dean's leg and mouthed 'you ok?' to him. Dean shrugged and nodded, managing a small smile that Sam returned. He wasn't completely convinced but it would have to be good enough for now.
"Here we go" said Jean, coming back to the table carrying two mugs of steaming coffee.
"Great – thanks" said Dean, inhaling the scent with a sigh of appreciation. He loved a good cup of coffee but sadly life on the road often meant they were reduced to drinking sludge that passed itself off as coffee.
Sam also thanked Jean and he too absorbed the enticing aroma as he sipped the hot liquid carefully.
At that moment they heard the front door open and Toby's voice carried into the kitchen.
"I'm back sweetheart" he called and Jean smiled at them as she wiped her hands on her apron and went out into the hallway to greet her husband.
"We've got company dear" she said and came back in, closely followed by Toby. When he saw Dean and Sam sat at the table his face broke into a pleased grin.
"Well I'll be – this is a nice surprise. How you boys doing?" he said shaking Sam's hand and then Dean's.
"We're fine, thanks. Just passing through and wanted to say hello. This is for you by the way" said Dean, reaching into his jacket and pulling out the bottle of scotch.
Toby grinned appreciatively "That's mighty kind of you, but you didn't have to" he said.
"We wanted to - you really helped us out last time" said Sam.
"They bought me these flowers too" said Jean, fetching the vase which she'd been arranging them in "Aren't they beautiful?"
"That they are" said Toby as she put them pride of place in the middle of the table.
"Dinner will be ready in just a minute. The boys are able to stay, isn't that nice?" she said heading back over to the aga stove.
"I should hope so" said Toby "You can tell us what you been up to since we last saw you. Not running out of gas I hope?" he said with a teasing smile.
Dean chuckled "No, I managed to train Sammy here to spot things like that a lot sooner" he said dryly and Sam rolled his eyes.
"Don't listen to him – it was so not my fault last time" he protested.
Toby chuckled "You two sound like my youngest grandkids" he said with fond amusement.
Both Dean and Sam blushed, but they too could see the funny side and ended up laughing along with him.
"Now why don't you men go get cleaned up – Toby will show you the way" said Jean firmly.
Toby winked at them "It's best to do as you're told when she uses that tone" he said sotto voice, earning himself a mock glare from Jean.
Dean and Sam both struggled to conceal their grins as they followed Toby upstairs to the bathroom.
Ten minutes later they were sat at the table, plates overflowing with delicious smelling home-cooked food. There was chicken, vegetables, baked potatoes and fresh bread. They dutifully bowed their heads as Toby said grace, but once Jean told them to 'go ahead' they both tucked in with gusto. They hadn't had such a fantastic meal since the last time they'd sampled Jean's cooking.
"I hope you left room for desert – I have a fresh apple pie I made just this morning" said Jean once they were done.
Dean groaned. "I may never have to eat again" he said as he got up to help Jean clear the table.
Sam raised his eyebrows in amusement at Dean's good manners, getting up to bring his and Toby's plates over to the sink too. Dean just gave him a look that said 'what' and Sam smirked.
"Now you two sit yourselves down – you're our guests tonight" scolded Jean.
Back at the table Toby sat back, sipping his coffee.
"So now we're done with the food, what have you boys been up to?" he said conversationally.
Dean glanced at Sam and swallowed a little before answering.
"This and that. We, uh, we had a bit of an accident a couple of months back. We had to take some time to get my baby back on the road and now we're just heading up North. We got some work up there" he said, shifting a little uncomfortably.
Toby frowned "Are you both alright? Sounds like quite an accident" he said with concern.
Dean shot Sam a look, so he answered.
"Yeah, we're both fine now thanks. We were lucky. Our Dad was with us when we had the accident though. He didn't make it" said Sam quietly.
Toby shook his head and Jean came back over, putting her hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Oh my dears – I'm so sorry. What a terrible thing to happen" she said compassionately.
Toby nodded "Yeah, I'm real sorry to hear that. He musta been real proud of you boys though" he said.
Sam managed to nod, blinking back the tears that were suddenly in his eyes. He looked over at Dean and saw his brother was looking down at the table. Only someone who knew him as well as Sam would have noticed the clench in his jaw or the slight heave in his chest as he tried to keep his breathing under control. Jean seemed to instinctively understand though and she went over and put her arm around Dean for a moment.
Instead of pulling away, Dean leaned into the embrace for a second. Looking up to meet her gaze he gave a slightly watery smile of thanks and Jean put her hand against the side of his face briefly.
Seeming to understand that they needed to get their emotions under control again, she gave Dean's shoulders a final squeeze and turned back to the aga.
"Lets have some of this pie before it gets cold" she said briskly.
Toby stood up.
"Why don't we have some of that scotch?" he said, going over to the cupboard to fetch some glasses.
As much as Dean wanted a drink right now, he was always careful about drinking and driving.
"I shouldn't really – we got a lot of miles to cover" he said apologetically.
"Well why don't you stay here tonight?" said Jean. "You can get a good night's sleep and head on first thing. I'm sure that job you're going to could wait till then couldn't it?"
Dean looked at Sam. It was a tempting thought. He raised an eyebrow questioningly and Sam thought for a moment before nodding. It was just what they needed right now.
"If you're sure it wouldn't be any bother" said Dean and Jean shook her head.
"Now I wouldn't have offered if it was would I?" she said firmly.
Toby nodded "That's settled then" he said, bringing over three glasses and the scotch bottle.
Desert was as delicious as the meal and the combination of home cooking, the company, and the scotch left them feeling pleasantly warm inside. Understanding somehow that neither Sam or Dean were ready to talk much, Toby and Jean filled them in on what had been happening with them. They told them about their two sons and daughter, and their four grandchildren. Jean showed them photographs and told them amusing stories about things the children had said or done.
Dean could feel his eyelids starting to droop. He felt more relaxed than he had in ages and looking across at Sam sprawled comfortably in his chair he could see his brother was just as relaxed.
Noticing the boys tiredness, Jean stood up briskly.
"Why don't I go get your room sorted out – I hope you don't mind sharing?"
"No problem – we're used to it" said Dean and she nodded.
"I'll just be a moment. You two stay right there"
"I hope this really isn't any trouble" said Sam and Toby shook his head.
"Of course not. We're glad of the company. Do you need me to make sure you're up by a certain time in the morning? Or can you stay a little longer – Jean makes a mean breakfast" he said with a smile.
Groaning at the thought of more food, Dean nevertheless nodded "That sounds lovely. There's nothing that can't wait for us a couple more hours" he said and Sam nodded his agreement.
"That's settled then" said Toby with satisfaction.
Jean came back down at that moment.
"The rooms all ready – it's the third on your right as you go up the stairs. I've left some towels on your beds and you know where the bathroom is. Just make yourselves at home" she said warmly.
"I'll go grab the bags from the car" said Dean. Getting up he bent over and gave Jean a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you" he said softly and she smiled.
Sam also gave her a kiss as he went past and she reached up and patted his cheek.
"Sleep well" she said softly and he nodded.
Dean came back carrying both bags, one of which he handed to Sam.
"Well, goodnight boys. Just holler if you need anything" said Toby.
"Yes, we'll be just along the hall" said Jean.
"Thanks – goodnight" said Dean.
"Night" said Sam as he followed Dean out the door.
The room was as homely as the rest of the house, with pale blue walls, lemon curtains and two single beds separated by a small table holding a lamp. There was a chest of drawers against one wall and a chair next to the door. As promised there was a fresh, fluffy towel on each bed.
"You can go first" said Dean, indicating the bathroom.
Sam quickly grabbed some fresh cloths and his wash bag, and headed out of the room. The hot water was lovely, easing the remaining tension in his neck. He showered quickly, not wanting to use up all the hot water, and headed back into their room. Dean had almost dozed off but he roused as he heard Sam coming and ten minutes later he too was feeling clean and fresh.
Switching off the light so that only the small lamp illuminated the room, Dean laid his towel over Sam's on the chair and tossed his clothes on top of one of the bags.
Getting into bed he reached out and turned off the lamp as Sam was already half asleep.
They lay there in the dark quietly, Dean letting out a satisfied sigh as he sank into the comfortable bed and fresh smelling sheets.
He though Sam was asleep so he was surprised when he spoke.
"I'm glad we came"
Dean smiled even though he knew Sam couldn't see it in the dark.
"Me too. Night Sammy" he said.
"Night Dean" said Sam with an answering smile.
Within minutes both Winchesters were fast asleep.