Toby was surprised the next morning to see Sam walk through the door first. Although both boys seemed much less tired than when they'd arrived, this morning Sam looked troubled.
Toby silently poured coffee for both of them and sat down, putting one of the mugs in front of him. Sam smiled his thanks and put his hands round the mug, staring into the liquid lost in thought.
Toby waited patiently, knowing Sam would talk when he was ready. It was a trait both Winchesters shared.
Eventually Sam looked up, slightly apologetic as he realised he'd been sat there quite rudely in silence for the last ten minutes. Toby just gave him a warm look of understanding and Sam felt his throat tighten.
"I don't know what to do."
There. It was the first time he'd admitted to anyone. He'd been so fired up at first, so determined that he'd find a way to fix what Dean had done, that the idea of failing quite simply never occurred. As the weeks went on he'd struggled to deal with Dean's changed attitude, with the hurt he felt when his brother seemed so ready to let go.
To leave him.
Even after Dean had confessed it was because he'd been told Sam would die if he tried to get out of the deal, Sam had still held onto that belief that they would find a way to make it alright.
But now time was marching on and the harder he looked, the less likely it appeared. And he was tired of trying to make Dean fight with him, to force him not to just accept his fate. Lately he was starting to think Dean was right, that there really was no way out.
And it was breaking his heart.
Toby sighed, wishing for possibly the millionth time that he could fix this for them. Never in his life had he met two young men who deserved less what was happening to them. He'd always believed in something, some higher power that watched over everyone, but these days he wasn't so sure. He couldn't imagine any god that would be so cruel as to put such decent people through such pain and suffering.
It wasn't right.
Sam looked up, not sure what to expect, but instead of disappointment or condemnation all he saw was compassion and understanding. He blinked, his coffee suddenly becoming slightly blurry.
"Maybe there's nothing you can do."
Sam's head snapped up at Toby's quiet comment and he shook his head vehemently.
"I won't believe that. I can't! I know what Dean's said, I know what he thinks, but he doesn't understand what he's asking me to do! He couldn't live with me dead – why can't I get him to see that the same goes for me? I'm not asking him to do anything that might undo the deal he made, I'm just asking him to.."
Sam tailed off and Toby leant forward.
"Asking him to what?"
"Fight. I'm just asking him to fight." Sam whispered.
"Sam, I know this is hard. Harder even than anything you boys have faced before. But maybe that's the problem. Maybe Dean doesn't have any fight left. Did you think of that?"
Sam shook his head.
"Dean never gives up. He'll fight with his last breath to save someone innocent, to save me. What I don't understand is why he won't do it for himself."
"I wish I could give you all the answers, but that's something you'd have to ask him for yourself." said Toby gently and Sam gave a slightly bitter laugh.
"Yeah, sure. I'd have more chance of winning the lottery than getting Dean to actually talk about this. I've tried, I've pleaded with him, I've yelled at him. Sometimes I just wanna shake some sense into him, but nothing works. How do you save someone who won't save themselves, Toby? How?" said Sam, his eyes pleading with the older man to somehow give him the magic answer.
Toby swallowed the lump in his own throat and got up, sitting down next to Sam and putting his hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Perhaps you have to stop trying. Now hear me out, I'm not saying stop trying to save Dean." he said, cutting off Sam's protest. "I'm saying stop trying to force Dean to fight with you. Tell me something – all these years, when you were younger, Dean's been the one to take care of everything, am I right?"
"He looked out for you? Did everything he could to protect you?"
"I bet sometimes there was stuff he did that you don't even know about, don't you think?"
This time it was a very small nod. Toby squeezed Sam's shoulder.
"Then perhaps this is your chance to repay that. Dean's scared, Sam. He's scared of losing you again. He's scared of what's gonna happen to you when he's gone. He's scared of what's going to happen to him, when it's over. But aside from being scared I think the biggest problem is he's tired. He's been fighting his whole life and now, rightly or wrongly, he sees a way out. He truly does think you will be ok without him, and as frustrating as that is for you I'm not sure you're gonna get him to really change his mind there. So maybe the only thing you can do is fight hard enough for both of you. I know it's gonna be tough, but he needs you to be the strong one now. Keep arguing about it is only hurting you both, so you need to take a step back and just be what he needs right now. His brother."
Sam stared at the table, feeling his throat ache and tears burning behind his eyes. The hardest part of hearing all that was the knowledge that Toby was probably right. He really had tried everything he could to get Dean onside to break this deal, and all it had done was cause an ever widening rift between them. And Sam hated that almost as much as he hated the idea of Dean going to hell. Maybe he had been going about this all wrong. As frustrating as Dean's lack of self belief was, it went so deep that Sam wasn't sure he could undo it, even if he spent a lifetime trying. But Toby was right – Dean had spent his whole life silently and uncomplainingly doing what was best for Sam. Even when Sam didn't always agree with it. Well now it was his turn. It was going to be hard, and it was going to be painful, and it would mean he had to handle all the fear and frustration alone. But he would do it – for Dean. Because he had meant what he'd said before, there was nothing he wouldn't do for his big brother.
He looked up at Toby.
"You're right. If I can't get him to fight then I'm just gonna fight hard enough for both of us. Cos I can't give up. I'll never give up." he said, quiet conviction running through every word.
Toby nodded and smiled.
"I know you won't. And deep down I reckon that brother of yours does too. But at least this way you can still enjoy your time together, without being at each other's throats. It's not the answer I know you want, but it's better than what you've been doing isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
"Yes what is?" said a voice and Sam turned round to see Dean standing in the doorway. He hoped he hadn't been there long.
"Less likely to snow today. Toby was just saying the roads should have been cleared by now, if it's not all melted overnight anyway."
Dean studied Sam as his brother calmly sipped his coffee. He wasn't completely sure he believed Sam's answer, especially since Toby had been sitting very close and had his hand on Sam's shoulder in what looked like a comforting manner. But clearly Sam wasn't about to elaborate on what they may actually have been discussing and he decided not to pry. After all, he hadn't exactly told Sam every word of the conversation he'd had with Toby the day before.
"Yeah, I reckon we should get a clear run. We're heading south anyway, so it'll be a little warmer."
Sam was relieved when Dean didn't push.
Toby got up and fetched Dean a mug, sitting down in his own chair this time leaving the seat next to Sam for Dean. He too was relieved Dean had accepted Sam's answer, and also glad that he hadn't walked in earlier. He certainly didn't give the appearance of having heard any of what they'd said.
"So do you know exactly where you're headed?" he said and Sam shrugged.
"Not really. There's a possible poltergeist report I saw before we came here, we might check that out. We've still got a while before Christmas so we'll probably fit in one more job at least before we stop for the break."
"You know you're welcome to come back here. You could meet the rest of the family." said Toby. Dean reluctantly shook his head.
"Thanks, but we really should get on. Besides we've imposed enough."
Toby sighed, exasperated.
"How many times do we have to tell you, you're not imposing. You boys are welcome here anytime – for as long as you like."
"Thanks, we appreciate it. Dean's right though, we've got work to do." he said, his eyes silently conveying that he meant that in more than one sense.
Toby got the message and inclined his head slightly.
"Well, if you're sure." he said, aloud, and Dean nodded.
"Yeah, we're sure. Hey, we could still do something Christmassy though. I think I'm getting into this holiday thing." he said, aiming the last part at Sam.
Sam looked uncomfortable and sipped his coffee. Just because he'd come to a decision about how to approach the whole deal thing didn't mean he was sure he could cope with another happy, jolly celebration. As nice as this had been, it was still hammering home the idea that perhaps he might be celebrating alone next year. He wasn't sure if he could keep up the brave face through Christmas as well.
He put the thought to one side. Dean had never exactly been into the holidays before, so hopefully he'd have forgotten all about it in a few weeks time.
At that moment Jean came in. She saw them all sitting there and raised her eyebrows.
"You know you three are starting to make me feel lazy. You make it look like I've been wallowing in my bed for hours."
Dean shook his head.
"After all that work you did yesterday, no way anyone could call you lazy, Jean." he said and she smiled fondly at him.
"For that you can have an extra pancake." she said and Dean grinned triumphantly at Sam.
"Suck up." Sam whispered, but his lips twitched as he said it.
Jean was as good as her word and did indeed give Dean an extra pancake, although that wasn't to say Sam didn't have a plateful of his own. They were both utterly and completely full when they'd finished, just like they always were when they visited.
"That really was terrific, Jean. You sure we can't persuade you to come on the road with us?" said Dean, flashing her his most charming smile.
Toby pretended to look affronted.
"Now don't you go trying to tempt my wife away. I'm afraid you boys will just have to visit when you want to sample her cooking."
"Oh well, it was worth a shot."
Jean rolled her eyes at the pair of them and took the plates over to the other side of the kitchen.
Dean looked at Sam and motioned his head upstairs. Sam nodded and got up.
"Back in a second."
Toby watched, marvelling as always at their ability to talk without actually saying anything. He figured it must come in handy in their line of work.
Moments later Sam came back, holding something behind his back. He sat down and handed whatever it was to Dean, under the table.
Dean cleared his throat.
"So, uh, we kinda have something we wanted to give you. Just to say thanks for having us and what with us not seeing you guys over Christmas." he said, awkwardly.
"It's just a small something but we thought you'd like it." said Sam, stepping in and giving him a hand.
Jean came back over and stood next to Toby, and Dean brought the package out from under the table and thrust it towards them, letting go like it was red hot. He slouched in his chair, looking slightly embarrassed, while Sam tried not to look too anxious.
"Oh you shouldn't have." said Jean, letting Toby carefully unwrap it. When she saw what it was she gasped, her eyes widening in pleasure as Toby lifted the carving out fully and held it up for them both to admire.
"Oh my goodness – that is beautiful!" she breathed and Toby nodded.
"She's right, that's one amazing piece of craftsmanship. You'd almost think it was real." he said, turning the eagle over to look at the detail on every inch.
"You really like it?" Dean blurted out, before he could stop himself, and he was slightly taken aback when Jean looked at him with eyes that were shining with tears.
"We love it." she said, coming round the table and putting her arms round him before he could react.
"Ok, great." he said, wheezing a little as she squeezed all the air out of his lungs before doing the same to Sam.
Toby nodded, meeting Dean's gaze and giving him a warm smile.
"It's lovely. Thank you, both." he said turning his gaze to Sam. Both Winchesters smiled, slightly shyly.
"You're welcome." muttered Dean, wondering if his face was as red as it felt.
Sensing their embarrassment Toby picked up the eagle and took it through to the lounge to find a home for it, while Jean went back to the other side of the kitchen.
"I'll just make you some sandwiches, for the road." she said and Dean groaned at the thought of more food.
"We keep coming here we're gonna be too fat to chase anything." he said and Jean just shook her head.
"Nonsense, you both need some good meals inside you. I bet you eat nothing but junk usually, am I right?"
Sam suddenly found the table fascinating and Dean squirmed under Jean's look.
"I think I'll go check we packed everything." he said, standing up quickly.
"I'll help." said Sam and Jean chuckled to herself as they both practically ran out of the kitchen.
Twenty minutes later the Impala was packed and two very full paper bags were carefully stored on the back seat, ready for their next break. Aside from the sandwiches Jean was sending them off with the rest of the pumpkin pie and some of the fruit cake they themselves had brought along. Dean figured they had enough to last them the next week.
Jean stood next to Toby, grateful when he put his arm round her. She always hated this bit.
Dean and Sam hated it too, since it seemed to get harder to leave each time they visited. It was even worse for Dean, since he wasn't expecting to visit again, although he kept that thought to himself.
"Well, you boys take care of yourselves now. And don't forget to keep in touch this time. We worry when we don't hear from you." said Toby.
"We will. Thanks again for having us, we really did have a lovely time."
Jean nodded, giving a slightly wobbly smile.
"It was our pleasure. I'm glad you both got along so well with Nathan and Chris too – they'll want to see you again I'm sure, next time you're here."
Dean couldn't quite bring himself to answer this time and Sam glanced at him before answering for them.
"We'd love to see them again – it was nice meeting them."
Knowing there was nothing else really to be said, at least not without tears being involved, Jean stepped forward and hugged Sam tightly. Letting go she stood in front of Dean for a moment, a million things running through her head. In the end she said none of them, knowing from the look on Dean's face that he understood what she wanted to say. She held him slightly longer than she had Sam, telling herself that this wasn't the last time she would do so.
"Now I expect to see you back here with your brother, you hear me?" she said fiercely and Dean could do nothing except nod. In the face of Jean's fierce affection he couldn't bring himself to contradict it.
Toby meanwhile shook Sam's hand then quickly hugged him as well.
"Remember what I said." he whispered in Sam's ear and as he stepped back Sam nodded. Dean came over and Toby shook his hand, holding on to it for a moment.
"Don't forget what we talked about." he said and Dean ignored the slightly quizzical look Sam gave him.
"I'll try." he said, which they both knew was the best he could offer right now.
Not wanting to drag it out anymore they both quickly got in the car. Toby had been right about the snow and it only took a few minutes for the windows to de-mist and the wiper blades to clear the half melted ice from the windshield. Leaning out of the window Sam waved and Jean and Toby waved back.
Toby tightened his grip on Jean as they watched the Impala pull away, both Dean and Sam waving until it went around the bend in the drive. Even once it was out of sight they still stood there, listening to the rumble of the engine gradually fade as it left the drive and hit the main road again.
"They'll be back." said Toby after a moment and Jean shuddered, feeling the tears she'd struggled to hold back finally falling.
"You really believe that?" she said and Toby looked down at her with a soft smile.
As they walked back inside Jean caught sight of the eagle sitting on the mantle above the fire. She looked at it for a moment. Toby was right – they would see them again.
She simply refused to believe otherwise.