Sam was so absorbed in what he was reading that when his cell phone rang he actually jumped. Dean, who was busy cleaning their weapons, looked up and smirked. Sam glared at him, daring him to comment, as he fumbled in his pocket for the phone.
He glanced at the caller ID and a surprised smile lit up his face.
"Hello." he answered and the smile widened as he heard the voice on the other end.
"Yeah, it's good to hear from you too. You're right, it has been too long. No, we're both fine. Yes, he is. That would be lovely but we're not that close right now. Well, I guess we could – let me ask him."
Dean who had been listening to the one sided conversation with open curiosity raised an eyebrow questioningly as Sam put his hand over the phone for a second.
"It's Jean. She and Toby want to know if we can come visit them." he said, looking hopeful.
Dean frowned. Not that he wasn't pleased to hear from the old couple, but they really weren't that near to their house and they didn't exactly have time to take a break after what had just happened. On the other hand it would be great to see them and he felt an actual pang at the thought of the warm welcome he knew they'd get and the chance to experience that little bit of homeliness, just for a while.
He looked at Sam and saw how much his brother really wanted to see them. He also saw how tired he looked after only a few weeks of driving himself crazy looking for a way out of Dean's deal. Maybe a couple of days wouldn't hurt.
Of course the fact he might not get a chance to see them again before his time was up didn't escape his notice either.
"Ok, I guess we can stop by. It'll take us about a day to get down there." he said, working out the route in his head.
Sam practically bounced as he went back to Jean.
"Yeah, we can make it. Should take us about a day to get there so we'll see you tomorrow? Ok. Yeah, me too. We will. Bye." he said.
He closed the phone and looked excitedly at Dean.
"Thanks, man. It really will be good to see them, won't it?"
Dean shook his head at Sam's childlike enthusiasm but he had to agree.
"Yeah, it will. Let me just finish this and we can hit the road. Might as well make a start. If you don't mind catching a few hours sleep in the car we could probably be there by lunchtime." he said.
Sam grimaced at the idea of trying to sleep in the Impala but reluctantly agreed. It wouldn't be the first time they'd slept in her and probably not the last either.
Wanting to use every spare minute these days researching a way to save his brother, Sam went back to the laptop while he waited for Dean to finish with the weapons.
It was a little after 2 o'clock the next day when Dean pulled off the road and down the dirt track that lead to Toby and Jean's house. They'd only be here twice before and yet already it felt familiar and welcoming to them. Dean still marvelled at how quickly they formed a connection with the couple and wondered briefly if there had been some cosmic force at work that first night they'd run out of a gas just down the road.
Even though he didn't really believe in that stuff.
Jean must have been listening for the engine because Dean had barely turned it off before the door opened and she came out, wiping her hands on a cloth and with a beaming smile on her face.
Dean felt an actual lump form in his throat and wondered what the hell was wrong with him. Ever since Sam's attack – he refused to use the 'D' word, even in his head – he felt a little like he was on a rollercoaster. One minute he was fine, the next minute he was feeling ridiculously emotional.
It was starting to really annoy him. At this rate Sam wouldn't be the only emo-Winchester in the family.
His thoughts were interrupted by Jean who, having crossed the distance between them, reached up and put her arms round him, hugging him tightly.
"It is so good to see you boys." she said and Dean smiled as he hugged her back. He was gradually getting more comfortable with the contact Jean always initiated so readily and he wondered if this was what it felt like to have grandparents.
Having squeezed the life out of Dean she moved onto Sam. His gaze was suspiciously bright and as she stepped back Jean looked at him appraisingly. She could sense something wasn't quite right and was suddenly glad that something had told her to phone the Winchesters the day before.
Knowing that with these boys they'd talk about it only when they were ready, she acted like she hadn't noticed a thing.
"Well, don't just stand there – come on in. You know where your room is." she said, turning back to the house and making her way up the steps to the porch.
Dean felt a rush of warmth at the way she said 'your room' and when he glanced at Sam the sappy look on his brother's face told him he felt it too. Nudging Sam with his shoulder as he went past, Dean opened the trunk and took out the bags. Sam grabbed his and followed Jean as Dean locked the car before joining them. They went upstairs and put the bags in 'their' room, then went back down to find Jean again.
She was in the kitchen as usual and Dean sniffed the air appreciatively as he smelt fresh coffee and home baking.
Jean turned round from the old fashioned stove where she was stirring something in a large pot. She waved a hand at the scrubbed wooden table where 4 places were set and two mugs of steaming coffee were already waiting.
"Sit yourselves down boys – there's coffee right there for you and lunch is nearly ready." she said.
Sam shook his head.
"You didn't have to go to all this trouble.." he began but Jean cut him off before he could finish.
"Now what have I told you before? It's no trouble. Honestly, you two." she said, shaking her head with affectionate exasperation.
Dean whacked Sam lightly on the shoulder as he sat down.
"Now Sammy if Jean wants to cook for us who are we to argue?" he said with a grin, knowing from experience just how good a cook she was.
Sam just rolled his eyes and sat down as well.
Jean smiled, familiar with their banter, and went back to what she was doing.
Dean took a sip of his coffee and sighed happily. As he leant back in the chair, feeling himself relax already, he glanced out of the window.
"Is Toby in town?" he said and Jean shook her head.
"No, he just popped over to help a neighbour of ours. He had a tree come down in the high winds last week. Should be back any minute now though – he's looking forward to seeing the two of you again as well." she said.
As if on cue they heard the sound of Toby's truck pulling up outside. Moments later the back door opened and he stepped in, pushing off his boots and leaving them outside the door. He grinned when he saw them.
"Well, it's about time – we was thinking you boys had forgotten where we lived." he said, his eyes twinkling as he winked to show he was only half serious.
"Now don't you start on them, Toby – I'm sure they've been busy." said Jean, pointing a finger warningly at him.
"Ah, they know I'm only messing – although it has been too long." He said seriously as he made his way over to the table. Both of them stood as they shook his hand and Dean grinned, inclining his head towards Sam.
"Well, we would have been back before but Sam here was afraid of ending up in that apron again." He said dryly and Sam turned to glare at him, whacking him on the arm.
"Hey, at least I'm secure enough not to feel threatened by wearing it." He said indignantly and Dean just laughed, the image of Sam looking like a startled deer when he he'd inadvertently caught him wearing it while helping Jean cook last time springing to mind.
Sam turned back to Toby.
"As you can see he still thinks he's funny." he said and Toby chuckled at both of them.
"Dean, don't tease your brother – he was helping me out when that happened." said Jean, trying to sound serious even though her lips were twitching.
Dean adopted a mock contrite expression.
"Yes, ma'am." he said, but the grin didn't leave his face.
Taking pity on Sam, Toby grabbed a mug and as he poured some coffee for himself he deliberately changed the subject.
"I see she's looking good, Dean." he said, referring to the Impala, and Dean literally puffed up with pride.
"Thanks. She's running like a dream. Course I don't let Sammy drive her much these days, so that's much safer." he said.
Sam kicked him under the table and Dean winced, glaring at him as he rubbed his leg.
With the instincts of a grandmother Jean turned round and raised her eyebrows at them.
"I don't need to come over there, do I boys?" she said and they both looked guilty as they replied "No, ma'am."
As they realised just how much like children they sounded they ended up grinning, Dean shaking his head as he took another sip from his mug.
Toby brought his coffee over and sat down with them, as Jean carried over a wooden cutting board with sliced, fresh bread on it. Next came the huge pot she'd been stirring on stove and both of them felt their stomachs growl as they smelt the enticing aroma. They watched hungrily as Jean ladled generous portions of the chicken and vegetable stew into their bowls. She set them down in front of them and indicated the bread.
"You tuck in now." she said and Dean didn't need telling twice, buttering his slice of bread eagerly and dipping it in the stew. He'd already taken his first bite as Sam was still reaching for the bread and he gave Dean an amused look.
"You'd think he hadn't eaten in a week." he said dryly and Dean looked indignant.
"I just appreciate good food, Sammy. And it doesn't come any better than Jean's." he said, flashing her a grin.
Jean blushed and shook her head, looking pleased with the compliment.
"There's no need to try and get round me, there's plenty more where that came from." she teased and Dean laughed.
There was comfortable silence briefly as they all tucked into the delicious food. Sam marvelled once again at how right it felt to be sitting there with Jean and Toby in the homely kitchen, feeling as if they were part of their family. After everything they'd been through since the last time it was even more poignant and he found himself struggling to swallow suddenly past the lump in his throat.
In tune to his brother's moods as always, Dean noticed the sombre expression and discreetly nudged Sam with his knee. Sam looked at him and Dean raised his eyebrow questioningly. Sam managed a reassuring smile and shook his head slightly. Dean wasn't convinced but with Jean and Toby sat there he couldn't really push it. He made a note to ask Sam about it later.
Despite their discretion the exchange hadn't gone unnoticed by the couple and they exchanged a look of their own. They'd both become inordinately fond of these two young men and last time they'd visited they'd managed to help them work through the difficulties they were having with their Father's death. They both had a feeling something even more difficult was bothering them now and they vowed to try and do what they could to help before they left. It was surprising just how protective they felt of these boys.
Once they'd finished Jean cleared the table, declining the offers of help from both of them, and Toby sat back in his chair, eyeing them speculatively for a moment.
"So where are you headed this time?" he asked and Dean shrugged.
"Just east, really. Might be some work there for us." he said casually.
"You know I don't think we actually covered what it is the two of you do when you were here before. Do you mind me asking?" he said, equally as casually.
Sam looked at Dean quickly, his expression a little panicked. The reason they'd steered clear of it before was that they didn't want to lie to Toby and Jean, not after everything they'd done for them, but now they'd been asked outright there really was no option.
Dean shifted awkwardly, acknowledging Sam's look and trying to think quickly of something to say. Toby watched them and as he leaned forward his expression was serious.
"You know unless you two are serial killers there isn't anything you can say would make you unwelcome here." he said and Jean, who had come back to join them when she heard the conversation turn serious, nodded.
"He's right." she said.
Dean looked at Sam and he could see the question in Sam's eyes. Could they really risk telling them what they actually did? Who they were?
His instinct was to trust the couple, they'd done nothing but take them into their home and their family since the first night they'd met. But this was big. There would be no going back once the words were out there. On the other hand it would make him feel better, to know Sam had somewhere else to go and someone else he could rely on when the time came. As much as his brother refused to acknowledge that the worst might happen, Dean had to consider it. Sam was still his responsibility, just as he'd always been.
He made the decision. Giving Sam a small nod, he watched as his brother cleared his throat nervously and turned back to Toby and Jean.
"Well, we're not serial killers." he said wryly and Jean smiled at his attempt to lighten the moment.
He took a deep breath. There was no going back now.
"We're hunters." he said, and Toby frowned a little.
"Alright. Hunters of what?" he asked and Dean rubbed the back of his neck as he took over from Sam.
"Well, that right there would be the awkward part. We hunt things that are – supernatural. Spirits, demons, poltergeists. The kind of thing most people don't think even exists. It does, and we hunt it." he said, simply.
Both of them watched the couple, trying not to reveal how nervous they were of their reaction. It surprised both of them just how important Jean and Toby's opinion was to them and they desperately hoped they hadn't just ruined things permanently.
Jean studied them intently, seeing only truth in their faces. Toby contemplated their answer before finally nodding.
"Ok." he said and Dean looked at him incredulously.
"That's it? Ok? Most people would be phoning for the men in white coats right now or chasing us out of their house with pitchforks." he said, not quite able to believe the calm reaction.
Toby shrugged. "I been around long enough to know there's more stuff in this world than we rightly know about. And I know you boys wouldn't lie to us, so that's all there is to it." he said simply.
Dean stared at him open mouthed. Sam was no better. They were both literally speechless.
"It sounds like dangerous work." said Jean worriedly and now Dean really did have a lump in his throat. They'd just revealed their biggest secret and Jean's only concern was how dangerous their job was. He blinked and Sam saw how much of an effect Jean's concern was having on his brother and stepped in.
"It can be but our Dad trained us well." he said and Dean managed to nod in agreement.
"So he was in this line of business too?" asked Toby and Sam nodded.
Deciding that they might as well go all the way now, between them they told the couple the whole story. Mary's death, the demon, the years spent travelling the country learning how to hunt. They deliberately left out the bit about Sam being chosen and the whole destiny thing. Dean because he still refused to believe it and Sam because it still made him feel ashamed. They revealed the truth of John's death though and as they came to the events of Cold Oak they both steeled themselves as they haltingly revealed what had happened to Sam and the deal Dean had made.
Jean gasped and her hand flew to her mouth as tears filled her eyes. Toby's expression was grim as he shook his head.
"Oh, Dean!" said Jean, getting up and walking round the table to put her arms round him.
Sam blinked back tears of his own and he saw Dean struggling to keep his composure.
"I don't regret it, Jean. I did what I had to." he said, his voice husky as he implored her to understand.
She did indeed understand. It was impossible not to – her and Toby had seen the bond that existed between these brothers right from day one. But it didn't make it any easier to know that in just 12 short months this young man they'd come to think of as one of their own might no longer be with them.
"It's gonna be ok though – I'm gonna find a way out of this for him." said Sam softly and they could hear the sheer determination in his voice.
Dean managed a shaky smile. "Yeah, I got no worries with College Boy here on the case." he said, trying to lighten things before it all really did get too much.
Sensing their need to get control of their emotions, Jean gave Dean's shoulders one last squeeze and stood up, brushing her eyes with her hand.
"Well if this doesn't call for pie I don't know what does." she said abruptly and Dean snorted.
"Damn straight." he said, giving her an appreciative smile. She managed to smile back and made her way over to the stove. The few moments needed to serve the pie she'd cooked earlier would give her time to compose herself properly.
Toby got up too, grabbing the coffee pot and refilling their mugs. As he filled Dean's he put his hand on his shoulder and left it there for a moment.
Dean looked up at him and smiled softly, appreciating the gesture. It was Toby who'd helped him work through his feelings about John's death last time and he had a feeling they'd be having a conversation about this before they left.
He found himself actually relieved at the chance to talk about the whole thing with someone. He couldn't discuss it with Sam and Bobby had been so mad at him for making the deal. And while he knew that was only because Bobby cared about him, which he appreciated, it meant he couldn't show any hesitation about what he'd done. Not that he regretted it, not for one second, but he had so many conflicting emotions about the whole thing it would be good to talk about it at last.
He also knew Jean would be talking to Sam, and he hoped she'd be able to help his brother deal with this. He hated that what he'd done was hurting Sam so much, and for all his brother's determination he was afraid that in the end there really would be no way out of the deal. And it scared him, how Sam was going to cope when he was gone.
At that moment Jean came back with the pie and sensing that they needed time to recover from the revelations, she and Toby told them everything that had been happening with them. Soon they were laughing at the antics of their grandchildren, commiserating at the damage the local farms had been suffering with the month of high winds that had just come to an end, and talking about normal things as if they hadn't just revealed their entire life story to the couple.
Sam leant back in his chair and groaned.
"I don't think I could eat for a week." he said and Dean nodded.
"I gotta agree with Sammy, there. That was delicious, Jean." he said.
She smiled warmly at both of them.
"Well, I'm glad you boys enjoyed it. Why don't you go in the other room while I clear up here? And don't be thinking about offering to help – I can manage." she said, before they could even say anything.
"Yes, ma'am." said Dean with a grin and he and Sam got up, following Toby into the front room.
They sank into the comfortable chairs, realising for the first time how tired they were. Sam had been burning the midnight oil researching ways out of the deal and Dean had been awake whenever Sam was. He'd literally dragged his brother away from the laptop more than once and it was a testament to their relationship that they hadn't yet come to blows over it. He knew Sam was determined to do this but he didn't want it to be at the expense of his health. Added to that the long drive to get to Jean and Toby's, and the couple of hours sleep in the car, and they were both practically nodding off.
Toby could see how exhausted they were and he smiled fondly to himself as he turned the radio on. As quiet music filled the room Dean could feel his eyes getting heavier. He wanted to apologise to Toby for being such bad company, but he had a feeling that somehow Toby really didn't mind. It wasn't often they got to relax completely, to not have to worry about demons or spirits or law enforcement tracking them down. But here he felt safe and secure, and the quiet breathing beside him told him that Sam must feel the same since he was already asleep. Giving in, he closed his eyes and drifted off himself.
Toby watched as Dean joined Sam in sleep, his head sliding down the back of the couch until it was resting on Sam's shoulder. Sam shifted slightly and moved so that Dean's head was more supported, all without even waking up. Toby shook his head. His own children were close but these two took it to another level. He couldn't imagine how Sam would cope if Dean really was gone in a year's time and he felt a stab of pain himself at the idea. They didn't deserve this, either of them. It was moments like this, hearing how much they'd been through in their short lives and what they were still struggling with, that made him question whether there really was anyone up there watching over them.
He got up quietly and left the room, coming back a few moments later with a blanket which he laid over both of them. Leaving the radio playing quietly in the background he went back into the kitchen. Jean looked up from the sink as he came in and frowned quizzically at him.
"They fell asleep soon as they sat down." he said and she smiled softly.
"I'm not surprised. They look tired out." she said. Toby leant back against the counter as Jean wiped the surfaces down. Finally unable to find anymore jobs to do to distract herself she put the cloth down with a sigh and turned to face her husband. He saw her eyes were full of tears.
Saying nothing he opened his arms and she stepped forward, burying her head in his shoulder as she silently wept. She only allowed herself a few moments before she pulled away, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief and patting her hair back into place. Her gaze when she looked up at Toby was still sad but her composure had returned.
"What are we going to do?" she asked and Toby sighed, running a hand through his hair.
"Reckon there's not much we can do. Ain't like you or I know anything about what these boys are facing. Seems to me all we can do is lend a kind ear and a place to come to when it gets rough. Although that's more than I reckon they've had before. I wish we could make this right for them, same as you do, but truth is we can't." he said.
Jean looked unhappy but she knew he was right. It was strange but she really hadn't been all that shocked by what they'd told her. Like Toby, she was aware there were things in the world that couldn't always be explained, and she also believed that Dean and Sam wouldn't lie to them. But her heart ached for what they were going through and just like with her own children and grandchildren she wanted nothing more than to take the pain away for them. It was hard, knowing that she couldn't.
"I suppose you're right. I'm glad I called them yesterday though." she said and Toby nodded.
"Yeah. I don't reckon they're used to calling up to ask for help themselves." he said.
"I think I'll get on with that weeding I was doing earlier. Keep my mind from thinking about all this too much. Those two deserve a rest – we can wake them later." she said.
"Sounds good to me. I need to sharpen some of those tools in the shed so might as well do it now." said Toby.
Jean checked on Dean and Sam quietly before she went out, smiling when she saw how they were sleeping. Closing the door gently behind her she followed Toby outside into the late afternoon sunshine.
It was Sam who woke first. He came to slowly, feeling comfortable and relaxed. When he opened his eyes he blinked a couple of times, not remembering at first where they were. Then he saw a photograph of Jean and Toby with their grandchildren smiling down at them and it came to him. The radio was still playing quietly but the room was empty. He glanced down and realised someone had covered him with a blanket. He also noticed at that point a weight on his left shoulder and he turned his head slightly. He smiled softly when he saw it was Dean resting against him, fast asleep. He kept still for a moment, feeling no real urge to get up and not wanting to wake his brother. It wasn't often they got moments like this and he wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.
Looking out of the window he saw the sky was darkening into evening. He looked up at the clock over the mantelpiece and saw it was just after 7 o'clock. He wondered where Jean and Toby were and how they were coping with what they'd revealed earlier. He was touched that they'd believed them without question. That really did mean a lot. He wondered if he'd get the chance to talk to Jean again before they left. She'd really helped him last time, advising him how to approach the difficult subject of John's death with Dean, and her tips had paid off. They'd had their first real discussion about it out on the porch there and Sam knew it had helped both of them come to terms with things a little.
Now he needed advice more than ever. He was still reeling from what Dean had done and he was more afraid of this, of not finding a way out, of letting Dean down, than he ever had been about his whole 'destiny'. As nightmarish as that had been this was worse. Because failure to fix this meant losing his brother, meant condemning him to hell no less, and Sam couldn't even contemplate that without feeling like someone was cutting off his air supply. He actually rested his head against Dean's for a moment, knowing he was safe from bodily harm while his brother was asleep and therefore unaware of the gesture.
Dean as it happened was fully aware of it, as he'd woken up a few minutes after Sam. He too was in no rush to move though and he figured since he could deny all knowledge of the 'moment' his brother was having he might as well go along with for now.
Not that he found it comforting or anything.
This was just for Sam's sake.
He was however possibly never going to live down the fact that he'd somehow ended up asleep on his brother's shoulder.
After a while Sam lifted his head up and shifted very slightly to try and get some feeling back into his left arm. Dean figured he could now give up the pretence and moved his own head.
"Dean?" said Sam as his brother sat up and Dean turned to look at him, rubbing his eyes as he blinked the sleep out of them.
"Who were you expecting?" he said dryly and Sam raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I wasn't sure since I'm fairly certain my big brother wouldn't be found sleeping on my shoulder in a million years." he said, equally dryly.
Dean reddened slightly and nudged Sam with his shoulder.
"Shut up, Sammy. It was probably you leaning in my direction in the first place." he said and Sam snorted.
"Uh huh – you keep telling yourself that, Dean. And it's Sam"
Dean stood up and stretched, feeling something in his back pop into place. He felt more rested than he had in ages and it made a nice change not to feel tired for once.
Sam stretched too, rubbing his arm that had gone dead from Dean leaning on it.
"Where do you think Jean and Toby are?" he asked and Dean shrugged.
"Outside maybe?" he said, unable to hear any noise from the kitchen.
He wandered over to the mantelpiece and looked at the photographs with a smile. They looked like a happy family and he felt slightly wistful as he imagined what it must be like to be a part of that.
He jumped a little, so lost in thought he hadn't noticed Sam coming to stand beside him.
He flashed a quick grin over his shoulder at him.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Sammy." he said and Sam didn't correct him this time.
Turning away from the photos Dean went into the kitchen, Sam following behind him. It was also empty so he opened the back door. As they stepped out he saw Jean kneeling by a flowerbed about halfway up the garden. The light coming from the shed told them that's probably where Toby was.
Using the unspoken communication thing they did so well, Dean headed towards the shed and Sam walked slowly over to Jean.