Author's note: So this is the final chapter now. It was supposed to be a one-shot, but kinda grew ...coughs
Thanks again to all of you who have reviewed – it makes my day when I open my Inbox and there they are! Hope this one is ok.. Enjoy:)
Dean had carried on chopping wood for so long he'd actually used up all the logs Toby had. It had been therapeutic, allowing him to concentrate on the task at hand and let his mind mull over what Toby had said to him. He'd pretty much come to the conclusion that he was right, Dean did need to talk to Sam about what was going on. At least in terms of John's death. There were some things he wasn't prepared to talk to Sam about, and maybe never would be – chief amongst them of course what their Dad had said just before he died. Dean still refused to believe that was anything other than a mistake of cosmic proportions.
Shaking his head to stop his mind going down that route again, he put down the axe and stretched his muscles with a satisfied sigh.
"You want me to stack this for you?" he said to Toby, indicating the large pile of wood blocks in front of him.
"Nah, that can wait for a bit. Don't reckon they're going anywhere" said Toby with a grin. "Breakfast should be ready any minute now I should think – why don't you go get cleaned up and I'll put this stuff away" he said indicating the tools surrounding him.
Dean nodded and headed towards the house. Wiping his feet, he was busy closing the door behind him and therefore missed the look of panic on Sam's face when he saw him come in. As he looked up however he was greeted by the sight of his little brother, looking for all the world like a deer caught in headlights, decked out in a green apron with flowers and holding a plate in each hand.
Dean stared at Sam in disbelief for a second before he started to laugh. At first it was just a chuckle, but the longer Sam stood there, the more the laughter grew until Dean was clutching the back of the nearest chair to stay upright and gasping for air.
"Damn, Samantha!" he managed to wheeze "Nice look"
Sam glared at Dean, but the more his brother laughed the more he had to struggle not to grin himself. In the end he was chuckling too, mostly at the sight of Dean so hysterical. The last time he'd seen him enjoy himself this much had been after he won Sam a cute purple bear at a fair and had presented it to him with a flourish. The bear had been lost somehow after the crash and Sam found himself missing it suddenly.
Shaking off the maudlin thoughts, he turned his attention back to Dean who was now wiping his eyes and trying to breathe in actual air before he passed out.
"Laugh it up Dean" he said dryly "I'm secure enough to wear this without feeling threatened, unlike some people I know"
Dean just smirked "Hey, I'm plenty secure Sammy. I just don't feel the need to dress up like a girl" he said, starting to laugh again.
Jean had been watching the whole thing with an amused expression, and she now decided it was time to rescue Sam since she was the one who'd made him wear the apron.
"Now Dean, it's not nice to taunt your brother like that. Go wash your hands, otherwise I might not let you have any of this lovely food Sam's been kind enough to help me get ready" she said with mock seriousness.
Struggling to get himself under control, Dean stood up straight and tried to look repentant. It didn't work.
"Yes, ma'am" he said smartly, and headed out of the room with a final smirk in Sam's direction.
Jean shook her head.
"I'm sorry my dear – I should take responsibility for getting you into that one" she said with a rueful grin.
Sam shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Don't worry about it. Actually it was worth it to see Dean laugh like that – just don't tell him I said that"
Jean grinned "Your secret is safe with me" she said.
By the time Dean came back down, still chuckling to himself now and then when the image popped back into his head, the food was ready. They all sat down at the table to plates groaning with bacon, eggs, pancakes, and toast washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice.
The conversation was relaxed and cheerful, with it being Dean and Sam's turn this time to tell Jean and Toby something about themselves. They stuck mostly to stories of when they were kids, Dean doing his best to embarrass Sam and Sam returning the favour. They both felt a pang of guilt at not being able to tell the couple what they and their Dad really did, but they knew that was just too much information.
Jean and Toby for their part enjoyed listening to the banter between the brothers and laughed at some of the stories they played out for them. It was obvious to anyone how close the two boys were and they felt for them with what they were going through. It was clear from the way Dean and Sam spoke of their Dad that they'd been a close knit family.
Eventually Dean put the last forkful of food in his mouth and groaned.
"Man, I don't think I'll eat again for the rest of the year. That was delicious Jean" he said.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it, but I can't take credit for all of it. Sam here helped"
Dean smirked at the reminder but instead of the sly comment Sam had been expecting Dean simply grinned at him and said.
"Nice job Sammy"
Sam was shocked for a second, then gave Dean a pleased smile of his own.
"Why don't you two boys take some coffee out on the porch and let that food settle?" said Toby as he stood to clear the table. "You don't have to rush off just yet do you?"
Dean glanced at the time and then at Sam, who shrugged.
"No, I guess not. You sure you don't need a hand with this?" said Dean indicating the dishes.
"Of course not. You boys go right ahead and make yourselves comfortable" said Jean, exchanging a knowing glance with Toby. She guessed that her husband had had a similar conversation with Dean to the one she'd had with Sam. She hoped they'd take this chance to sort things out, while they had the time.
Watching them go outside through the hall with a smile, she closed the door behind them to make sure they had some privacy.
Sam sat himself down on one of the comfortable chairs arranged on the porch and sighed contentedly. Dean stayed standing and went over to lean on the rail, looking out at the trees in front of them thoughtfully.
Deciding to bite the bullet and get things going, Sam spoke first.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, since we got here" he said softly.
Dean turned round, but instead of shutting Sam down as he would normally do Dean heeded Toby's words and just waited patiently for Sam to continue.
Seeing that Dean wasn't avoiding the moment, Sam took courage from that and pressed on.
"All this stuff that's been going on lately – it's crazy, you know? Neither of us have really had a chance to sit down and process it all. And I know what you said before, about wishing it was you and not Dad who'd died, and I just didn't know how to answer that at the time. I just... Seeing you hurting like that, it killed me Dean. And there's so many things I need to say to you right now I just don't know where to start" he said, so softly that Dean could barely hear him.
"Well I got nowhere to be right now" said Dean, managing a half smile. He wasn't comfortable with this stuff by a long shot, but he could see how much Sam needed to tell him this and although he'd never admit it out loud he needed to hear it just as much, for once.
Sam took a deep breath and tried to get his thoughts in order.
"I just want you to listen to this ok, and not interrupt. I need you to hear everything I've got to say"
He looked up at Dean, and Dean nodded so he continued.
"What you said about Dad's death being your fault – it's not true. Whether he made some kind of deal or not, it was his choice not yours. And maybe he should have talked to me about it first, but that never was Dad's way right?" Sam managed a rueful smile. "But the thing is, when I think about it – I'm not sorry. I'm not saying that I don't miss Dad, cos I do, every day. But if it had been you who'd died instead? I wouldn't be standing here right now"
Dean shook his head. "Sam.."
Sam held up his hand "Uh, uh – no talking remember. I mean it Dean. I've said it before, and I'll say it again – you're the most important person in my life. You've been the one constant I've had for the last 22 years and the truth is I don't know what I'd do without that. I know I don't always say thank you often enough, for everything that you've done for me, but sitting in that hospital. I swear, I would have done anything – anything – to bring you back. You said it wasn't my fault what happened with Roy Le Grange cos we didn't know, but truth is I can't say for certain if I wouldn't have gone through with it even if I had. You said it scared you, what you wouldn't do for me and Dad. Well, I feel the same about you Dean. You have to believe that. You're always so busy taking care of everyone else that you don't think about yourself. Well, that's what I'm here for. I'm your brother Dean, and that means I want to take care of you as much as you want to take care of me. Because I don't know what I'd do if you died. I really don't. I've had so much experience with what that feels like lately - too much. And I can't handle it. I really can't. I need you here, not because I want you to protect me, or take care of me, or help me find the demon, but because you're my brother. That's all I need you to be – alive"
Sam paused for breath, surprised himself at the words that had come pouring out. Dean was staring at him, his eyes suspiciously bright. Sam's words were going straight past all his defences and straight to his heart. He couldn't say anything, because he couldn't get enough air in to speak right now.
Sam swallowed the lump in his throat, blinking back the tears in his own eyes, and continued.
"Spending time here with Jean and Toby, I've been thinking about what it really means to have a home. And the thing is, it's not about a house, or things, or having a 'normal' routine. None of that stuff really matters. Home is a feeling, that's all it is. And I get that feeling Dean, whenever we're in the car, or on the road, or stuck in some crummy motel. As long as you're with me, then I'm home. And I know that sounds incredibly sappy and you're probably gonna kill me later, but it's the truth. But you have to promise me something – you have to stop shutting me out. I want to help you with this, and you shouldn't have to do it on your own - I keep telling you that. But you have to start letting some of this go, otherwise it's gonna destroy you. And I can't just watch that happen"
Sam sat back, feeling drained but pleased to have said all the things he'd been needing to say since that fateful day at the hospital.
Dean swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat. Sam's words meant the world to him. He'd been so afraid Sam would resent him for John's death being in exchange for his life, and to hear that it was in fact the outcome Sam would have done anything for was amazing. It wasn't that he didn't think Sam cared, he knew he did, but to hear in black and white just how important he was in his brother's life? It healed wounds that had been opened as far back as the day Sam left for Stanford.
"Wow, Sammy. When you decide to have a Hallmark moment you really go for it don't you?" said Dean shaking his head.
Sam rolled his eyes but smiled slightly at such a Dean-like response.
"It means a lot, what you just said. And I hear you, really I do. But it's not easy for me Sam. You gotta understand, I've been used to being the one who takes of things for all these years, I can't just change that. I'm never gonna be one of these 'caring & sharing' types, and I know – that's not what you're asking for. But I can't change the fact I still wish Dad was here, or the fact I feel guilty he's not. But it does help that you don't blame me for it, so I thank you for that. But you have to remember you might want to start looking after me, but you can't change the fact I'm the big brother and I look out for you. That's never gonna change Sammy"
"And I wouldn't want it to" said Sam softly with a smile.
Dean found himself smiling back and for a moment they just held each other's gaze.
"So are we good?" said Sam finally and Dean rolled his eyes but nodded.
"Yeah, we're good. Now please, please tell me that means we can pretend this never happened?" he said with disgust.
Sam shook his head. "That's a shame cos I was thinking of getting the whole thing printed on t-shirts" he said dryly.
"Smart ass" said Dean and Sam chuckled.
"I guess we'd better go back inside before they come looking for us" said Dean, draining his mug.
"Yeah, I suppose we should get going too, we got a lot of miles to cover" said Sam reluctantly.
"Yeah. Maybe we can come back next time we're in the area though" said Dean and Sam nodded.
"I'd like that"
As he stood to go back inside, Dean suddenly reached out and put his hand on Sam's shoulder. Turning to look at him quizzically Sam saw his brother seemed to be debating something. He seemed to come to a decision though, and suddenly Sam found himself pulled into a hug.
For a few seconds he was too surprised to respond, but then he put his arms round Dean and returned the hug, holding his brother tightly. He couldn't remember the last time Dean had hugged him – it had to be before he went to high school. It felt good.
It didn't last too long though, and Dean stepped back. Ducking his head he didn't meet Sam's gaze but punched him lightly on the shoulder and hurried past to go inside. Sam smiled to himself. Whether Dean would ever admit it had just happened, Sam would remember it. And it was enough to give him a warm feeling inside that had nothing to do with coffee.
Jean and Toby were still in the kitchen when they went in and they both turned to look at them. Jean smiled when she saw a lightness in their step that hadn't been there before. Whatever they'd talked about had clearly done the trick and she shared a knowing smile with Toby.
"Everything alright?" she said and Dean smiled at her.
"Yeah, everything's fine thanks" he said, and for the first time in weeks he actually meant it.
Sam gave her a grateful smile too, acknowledging that without her encouragement he'd never have plucked up the courage to actually tackle Dean about everything.
"I hate to say it, but we really should be getting going" said Dean regretfully and Toby nodded.
"That's too bad. Still, can't keep that job of yours waiting" he said and Dean shrugged.
"Unfortunately not. I'll go get the bags" he said, turning to Sam who nodded.
"We really do want to thank you very everything – you've been so kind" said Sam as Dean went upstairs.
"Oh don't go thanking us dear, we've loved having you here" said Jean and Toby nodded his agreement. "Now, I've made you some sandwiches for later and there's some of that apple pie in there too" she said, handing Sam a neatly wrapped package.
Dean came back in and Sam waved the package at him "Lunch" he said with a grin and Dean smirked.
"That's great, but what are you having Sammy?" he said. Jean whacked him lightly on the arm, shaking her head at him with fond exasperation, and Sam just rolled his eyes as he put the package safely in one of the bags.
They loaded their stuff back in the trunk and then it was time to go. Both of them found they were genuinely sorry to be leaving.
Jean and Toby had come outside with them and Jean was holding a pad and a pen.
"Now you boys take this, it's our phone number, and you remember to keep in touch you hear?" she said firmly, handing Dean a scrap of paper. "And you drop by next time in you're in the area – we won't take no for an answer"
Dean smiled "We'd love to. Here, let me give you our cell phone numbers" he said, taking the pad from Jean and writing out both his and Sam's number on there. He gave it back to Jean and she smiled at him, pleased.
"You take care now you hear? Look after yourselves, and each other" she said, hugging Dean warmly.
"We will. Thank you, for everything" he said softly to her and she patted his cheek affectionately as he stepped back.
She also hugged Sam just as tightly, and he whispered in her ear "Thank you" . She understood that he meant it for more than just the hospitality.
Toby shook hands with both of them. "Thanks for helping me out with all that wood, I reckon that'll last us for a while" he said with a grin.
"Hey, it was the least we could do" said Dean with a shrug. And then it really was time to go.
With final promises to keep in touch and visit again soon, Dean and Sam got in the car and drove off. They both waved until they got to the bend in the track, and their last view of the couple was of them standing arm in arm, waving them off.
Sam sat back with a sigh.
"I'm actually gonna miss them" he said and Dean nodded.
"Yeah, me to. We can come back though, next time we pass. And I got a feeling Jean'll be keeping tabs on us now she has our numbers" he said with a grin.
"Yeah, you're probably right about that" said Sam, grinning too.
As they pulled out onto the main road again, the car filled with silence. But this time it wasn't oppressive as it had been before they'd arrived. It was comfortable.
Sam knew that everything couldn't be solved with just one 'talk' and 24 hours spent in good company, but he knew the conversation they'd had had cleared up a lot of things and he knew that Dean really did understand now how important he was to Sam. And he believed his brother when he said he'd try and open up to him a little more.
He knew Dean would still behave like the big brother, still put his needs above his own, but Sam was ok with that. Because he knew some things you could never change, and all that mattered was his determination to do exactly the same for Dean in return. Whether he liked it or not.
Glancing over at his brother, Sam found himself smiling affectionately. Dean realised he was being watched after a few minutes and looked across to see Sam smiling at him with a slightly sappy look on his face.
Dean rolled his eyes, and reached out to whack Sam lightly on the leg.
"Dude, quit watching me with that look. We are so done with the Hallmark moments, ok?" he said, warning in his voice. "One sappy comment and you're walking the rest of the way"
Sam's smile just grew wider and Dean shook his head in disgust, but couldn't quite stop the corners of his mouth twitching too. He felt better than he had in months since his little chat with Sam and it felt good to be back on the road, feeling so much lighter. That didn't mean he was gonna indulge Sam in his damn Lifetime moments though.
Looking back, he saw Sam had moved his gaze to the scenery that was passing by. Satisfied the moment had been nipped in the bud, and all was well in their world, Dean reached out and flicked on the radio. As 'Fight The Good Fight' began to blare out of the speakers, Sam glanced back at Dean and shook his head but made no move to turn the volume down. Dean just grinned at him and began singing along.
Chuckling, Sam rolled his window down and listened. It may not have been conventional, or 'normal', or any of those other things he'd craved in the past, but this was home. And he wouldn't change it for the world.