Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done. I do not know the town of St. John, ND, nor do I know anyone living there. Anything about this town is purely my imagination.

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Season 3

Synopsis: The race is on to find a solution to the deal and on the way there, Sam and Dean run into someone unexpected.

Author's note: This story takes place after Dean made the deal for Sam's life, but doesn't really fit into Season 3 anywhere. The deal is a reality, but not a prominent part of this story. And after a bit this will go completely AU.

St. John, ND

It was on days like these, when the snow came down heavy and there was nothing much to do around the house, that Grace Alden missed her job the most. But she had no one but herself to blame for her early retirement. She was, after all, the one who had decided to pull the plug and had withdrawn from an otherwise both lucrative and exciting job. And most of the time she was okay with it. Most of the time, she enjoyed the quiet life in St. John while going about her business, hanging out with neighbors, working in the garden or rearranging the house. She had plenty to do. It was the silence of the house that got to her sometimes. Twenty-four years of silence, only broken when a distant friend came to stay for a few nights now and again or her neighbors dropped by for a cup of tea and a chat. It was a silence she had brought with her when she had moved here, to St. John.

Today however, she did relish the reestablished silence. Her next door neighbor, Maddie Parkinson, had just left after yakking an ear off for a few hours. She loved Maddie's exuberant personality, but Maddie was best in small doses. Now, after Maddie had left, Grace just sat on her couch, a cup of tea steaming on the coffee table, while her presently favorite book lay open in her lap. But she wasn't reading. She was staring ahead of herself, lost in thought for a moment. Then she slowly ran her gaze over her living room and took in everything like she had never seen it before.

The furniture was what Grace liked to call subdued. Not too big or dominant, but just right for a room this size. The wooden floors had their scratches, needless to say, with Pebble having her daily temper tantrums and racing around like the devil himself was on her tail. She loved her cat to bits, but Pebble wasn't an overtly affectionate cat. She liked to lie next to Grace when she watched television at night and was definitely not adverse to a bit of scratching behind the ears. But it had to be on her terms, when she wanted it. Where the cat was right now was beyond Grace. Pebble had a habit of finding out-of-the-way hiding places.

But it was on days like these, with the heavy snowfall outside and the hushed, crisp silence this created, that she remembered them the most. Her gaze slid to the mantelpiece of the rustic old fireplace and the photo frames sitting on it. She drew in a deep breath and smiled vaguely, then picked up her tea cup and held it aloft in a silent salute to the picture at the end. "Here's to you. Look out for each other," she whispered and took a careful sip of her tea. It was almost a tradition, that quiet salute. She had done it once a month every year for twenty-four years and there was nothing in this world that could stop her from keeping it up.

Grace herself looked younger than her years. At fifty-four, she looked more like forty-four, but it wasn't due to any artificial means. The members of her family just didn't age badly. She was fairly tall for a woman, five foot ten, and immediately gave the impression of being a workout fanatic. She was powerfully built and, according to Maddie, strong as an ox. Family genetics again, she had always assumed. She kept busy and didn't hold back on heavy manual labor, but she most certainly did not work out.

With a slight sigh, she set her cup down and rose to walk over to the landscape window facing the backyard. Everything was wrapped in snow, giving it that feel of a winter wonder land that she had always been so intrigued by as a child. Some of that wonder still existed, but it was more of a bitter-sweet flavor than the candy cane flavors she remembered from her childhood. Life had a habit of throwing curve balls when you least expected it and that was true for her as well as for any other member of her family she had ever heard of.

The thought made her smile bitterly. Grace was more of a glass-half-full type of person than the other way around, but sometimes it was hard even for her to see the bright side of life. She liked to believe that people were born innocent, that the thought that someone could have been born with an evil streak was just pure nonsense. But it didn't mean they couldn't develop that mean streak later in life.

A recent incident in her very own neighborhood had brought that strongly to the forefront of her mind. It had been the reason for Maddie's impromptu visit this afternoon and her two hour word stream. Maddie loved gossip and she loved to spread it too. She meant no harm, but she just could not keep the sordid details of such an incident to herself. Not when one of their neighbors from further down the street had been involved in it.

Grace remembered the news report on it from a few days ago and recalled her reaction to hearing about the kid the police had picked up from Mrs. Hemming's backyard. Apparently, he had stumbled out of the forest, bloodied and beaten within an inch of his life, and Mrs. Hemming, who was close to eighty, had nearly had a heart attack. She had done the only thing she could, of course. She had called the police and they had come to pick the kid up, only to then call an ambulance. The commotion on the street had been hard to miss, but Grace had been busy with other things at that point and had paid little attention to the sirens rushing by.

She eyed the edge of the forest, nearly obscured by the blanket of snowflakes falling from the sky, and wondered what had happened to that poor boy. In recent months, a few kids had disappeared from the area if the tabloids were anything to go by and this kid was the only one to return. With a broken jaw and a fractured skull, it was doubtful that the boy would be able to tell anyone anything. Grace had seen the pictures of the badly battered kid on the news and with her years of being a paramedic behind her, she knew how serious his injuries had been. The reporter had stated that it was uncertain whether the boy would survive.

But the news report had not mentioned what Maddie had been going on about. And no matter how much Maddie loved gossip, she was in the know. Generally, what she passed on was true, and it had actually rattled Grace. She folded her arms over her chest and shuddered. Whatever had happened to that poor kid had been man-made. No animal would beat someone up like that and then rape them repeatedly. That wasn't how the natural world worked. And it had always been a source of disgusted disbelief in Grace that one person would do something like that to another. She had seen plenty of willfully inflicted injuries on people during her years as a paramedic and a part of her hoped that the boy wouldn't recover. Having to live with what had been done to him would have to be the worst.

Somewhere, Pebble meowed, demanding attention about something or other, and Grace turned from the landscape window and headed toward the kitchen to find her demanding little darling before the cat decided to rip her curtains to shreds out of frustration.


Days Inn
Cody, Wyoming

"A what?" Dean stared at his brother with nothing short of confused annoyance because he was fairly certain that Sam was pulling his leg. "Come again?"

Sam looked up from where he was sitting at the small table by the window in front of his laptop and gave him a look that Dean had a hard time deciphering. "An Abiku," Sam repeated. "We went up against one of those before, remember?"

"Are you off your rocker? What the hell would an Abiku be doing here in Cody?" Dean demanded.

"I'm not saying that's it, but it sort of sounds like it could be one," Sam shot back, sounding a little miffed as he returned his attention to the laptop. Then he sighed deeply. "Okay, maybe not," he added.

"Damned straight it's not an Abiku. Get your act together, man," Dean agreed and returned to cleaning the gun he had just taken apart. "Sometimes I wonder what the hell is going on in that freakish head of yours," he added.

"More than in yours," Sam grumbled.

Dean abstained from commenting on that. "Look, I think this is a bust. I don't think there's anything supernatural going on here," he finally said.

"Two kids have vanished into thin air, Dean," Sam stated, a little exasperated.

"Yeah, two kids from the same family. Where mom and dad just threw in the towel a month ago and gave up on the marriage. And now they're involved in a custody battle. Don't you go telling me that daddy didn't decide to take off with the kidlets because his bitch of a wife won't let him see them," Dean said and put the gun down.

For a moment all they did was stare at each other. Then Sam dropped it. Dean could see it in his eyes how the resistance broke and his resolve to fight the evil of this specific town dwindled into nothingness. "Okay, fine. So maybe it's nothing," he consented.

"Not just maybe," Dean said, finished the gun and put it back in the weapon's bag. "No sweat. We've had two days off this way," he added and smirked.

Sam rolled his shoulders like he was trying to rid himself of a tenseness there and Dean frowned lightly. "Do you even know what a vacation is?" Sam asked after a minute and chanced a glance in Dean's general direction.

"Of course I know what a vacation is. What are you, tripping?" Dean growled and rose. "Let's pack up and get the hell out of this backwater of a town," he added, then glanced out the window. "Even though ... we're close to Yellowstone. We could take a look around."

Sam grimaced. "That would involve a lot of walking, Dean," he said and eyed his brother for a moment.

"Dude, there are roads going through Yellowstone," Dean said and shook his head while twisting his expression into the displeasure he felt right now.

"Yeah, but not many. If you want to see anything, you have to go hiking. And ... I don't know about you, but I'm not going camping," Sam said, shut the laptop down and rose.

Dean made a face. "Hiking?" he asked and shuddered with disgust. "Nah, I think I'll pass."

A raised eyebrow was all the answer he got to that one. "We could always drop by Bobby's. Haven't seen him in a while," Sam suggested.

"Is Bobby haunted?" Dean asked.

With a frown furrowing his brow, Sam turned around to face him. "What?"

"Why would we go to Bobby's unless we had some reason to go there? So, I'm asking you if you know something I don't know," Dean clarified.

The way Sam eyed him would normally make him grin, but he maintained a serious expression throughout it. "I'm so not talking to you when you're like this," Sam declared and turned back to stash his laptop in his bag while he shook his head and muttered under his breath.

Dean grinned. "Dude, you're too easy," he said, threw the few things he had lying around into his duffel and then made a face at its contents. "We need to do laundry soon," he added. It was one of those little details he hated doing. It was too close to normal for his liking, too close to suburbs and white picket fences. It was a necessity, of course, but he still didn't like it.

"You do," Sam agreed. "I'm good for at least another week here."

"That's because you have way more clothes than me, Francis," Dean teased and easily ducked away from the pillow flung in his direction despite the fact that he had his back to Sam. The pillow hit the door across from his bed with a muffled thud. "And you throw like a girl," he added.

Sam said nothing, but Dean could almost feel the annoyance radiating off his sibling. Sometimes it was just too much fun, riling Sam up like that. And fun was what they had too little of in general. That and a home base.

He stopped dead and stared down at his duffle for a second. Where the hell had that come from? They didn't need a home base. He shook his head, and then glanced back at Sam. Something had caught his brother's attention. Sam stood stock still by the table, the strap of his bag in one hand, his eyes glued to something on the table top. "What's the matter?" he asked.

Sam picked up the newspaper and turned back to face him, holding it up. "Could this be something along our line of work?" he asked.

Dean frowned and focused on the front page of the paper. There were two stories and one of them did look vaguely weird. "Give me the abridged version," he said.

"Five kids have disappeared in this community over the past six months, all of them in their late teens. The police have been unable to find any trace of them. Only one has turned up again. And he's so severely damaged that he can't talk. They don't think he'll survive," Sam said. "He stumbled into someone's backyard in his birthday suit no less."

Dean frowned. "Dude, it's like ... twenty-three degrees out there," he said. "You telling me that some kid stumbled into someone's backyard butt naked in these temps?"

"That's what this says," Sam confirmed.

"Does it say what happened to him?" Dean asked.

"All they say is that he was severely beaten, has a skull fracture and a broken jaw," Sam said.

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered. "That could actually be something," he added thoughtfully. "Where is it?"

"North Dakota. Close to the Canadian border," Sam said and turned the newspaper around again to briefly study the text. "St. John," he added and met Dean's eyes over the top of the paper.

"Well, at least we have a destination. Although I would prefer to head toward warmer climate, to be honest. I've just about had enough of snow and slick roads," Dean said.

"Well, you could spring for snow tires," Sam suggested.

That argument had been brought up before and Dean seriously considered it now. Generally, he didn't like to give in when any idea regarding his car came from other quarters than his own, but this time there was sense in the madness. "Might be an idea," he said, dug out the map and briefly studied it. "Well, if we drop by Bobby's, we have two days of driving ahead of us. If we don't ... we still have two days," he mused. "'Cause there ain't no way I'm driving twelve hours straight," he concluded.

Sam said nothing, but stuffed the newspaper into his bag as well and sent a quick glance around the room. "Ready whenever you are," he said and eyed Dean expectantly.

Dean put the map back in his duffle, zipped it up and threw it over his shoulder. "Let's go," he said, stepped around his bed and opened the door. Then he came to a stop. "Shit," he muttered, dropped his duffle and strode into the bathroom, well aware of the heartfelt sigh Sam made no effort to conceal.

Dean gathered the few things he had left in the bathroom and returned to the room to dump them in his duffle. Then he patted himself down, searching for his gun. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, dropped down on his knees and peeked under his bed. "Where the hell is my ..."

He stopped short when he saw Sam holding it up. "You gave it to me last night," he said.

Dean snatched it away from him and stuffed it into the back of his jeans. "And you didn't think it might be a good idea to give it back to me?" he demanded.

Sam arched an eyebrow. "I just did," he said innocently.

"Smartass," Dean growled, then frowned. "Where the hell is my wallet?" he added.

Sam rolled his eyes and once again sighed. "Whenever you're ready, Dean," he said.

"Shut up," Dean shot back a tad more aggressively than intended and scanned the room visually.

"You check your pockets?" Sam asked.

"I just did," Dean growled.

"Your jacket, jerk," Sam said vehemently.

Dean narrowed his eyes at him, stuck a hand into the pocket of his leather jacket and made a face. Sam snorted.

"I swear to god, dude, you need a maid. Or a wife. Which probably would come down to the same thing for you, wouldn't it?" Sam said.

"Zip it, bitch," Dean growled, grabbed his duffle again and threw it over his shoulder once more. "I have a system," he added.

"You must be a big fan of the chaos-theory then," Sam suggested.

Dean glared at him, but refrained from indicating that he didn't know exactly what the chaos-theory was about. Instead he turned around and left the room. Sam followed him, closing the door behind him.


They had just passed the limit of Cody when the inevitable three words spilled out of Dean's mouth. "I'm hungry."

Sam closed his eyes and wished himself away for a moment. He loved his brother, but sometimes he just wanted to bash his head in. "You didn't know that when we left?" he asked.

"Sure I did. Just thought we'd be able to get a bit further before it became too insistent," Dean said. "Keep an eye out for a diner or something."

"Whatever," Sam muttered. He was looking forward to getting to Bobby's. At least Dean would be preoccupied for a bit while they found the snow tires and put them on the damned car. That would give Sam some much needed time to do what he wanted to do for a change. Dean was pretty much set in his ways at the moment, very inflexible when it came to anything other than what he wanted, and Sam knew he would eventually have to blow up at Dean before it would change. Sometimes, his brother was just purposefully dense.

Ten minutes later, Dean pulled the Impala into a parking lot next to a diner and got out. Sam took a moment to follow him, but eventually did. Even though he wasn't really hungry, he figured he could do with a cup of coffee while his brother would undoubtedly indulge his never-ending hunger yet again.

They settled in, Dean ordered the special and Sam ordered a cup of coffee before glancing up at the menu hanging on the wall. His gaze immediately settled on the one thing he had never ordered while Dean was around. And for obvious reasons too. Dean had a thing about what Sam drank for some odd reason, and something like that would add to his arsenal of things he could tease Sam about. Strangely enough though, Sam didn't care today.

"On second thought, I'd rather have a cup of Chai," he amended.

"Which type?" the waitress asked, unimpressed.

Sam could feel Dean's eyes on him while he studied the rather big selection of various teas. "What's good?" he asked the waitress.

She sent a quick glance over one shoulder. "The Serenity Peace is good," she said.

"I'll have that then," Sam said.

"You want extra milk with that?" she asked and smiled at him, something he observed she hadn't done with Dean yet.

In Sam's opinion, Chai was much like liquid candy and he generally felt like he needed the sugary boost along with the spices right now. Of course, if he used that kind of wording about it, Dean was likely to try it at some point, and Sam actually liked having something Dean would never touch with a ten foot pole. "Yeah, sure," he agreed and smiled back at the waitress, who left again.

After a second, Sam finally met Dean's eyes and had to struggle a bit to keep from laughing at the downright mortified look in his brother's eyes. "What?" he asked instead.

"Could you be any more gay?" Dean countered and shook his head in mocking sadness.

A comment like that would have raised his hackles a few years back, but now all it did was make him sigh and glance back up at the menu while he tried to figure out if he was hungry or not. Dean had a tendency to throw out comments like that with the sole purpose of getting a rise out of Sam. And Sam wasn't going to bite any more. For a moment he considered various come-backs, well aware that the longer he waited with it, the more of a surprise it would be to Dean. Finally, he returned his attention to his brother. "You're such a wuzz, Dean," he finally said.

Dean stared at him. "What?" he asked, his tone full of stunned surprise.

"You're always so scared of trying something new," Sam said with a light shake of the head before turning his attention to the street outside.

"Excuse me?" Dean's tone had a dangerous undercurrent, but Sam ignored him. "I am so not scared of trying something new!" he stated in no uncertain terms.

"The hell you are," Sam insisted and returned his attention to him. "Do you even know what Chai tastes like?"

To see his brother this conflicted over such a simple thing made it that much harder for Sam not to laugh out loud. He was baiting Dean big time and Dean was biting. That happened all too rarely. Normally, it was almost impossible for Sam to put the skids under him, but it would appear that he had managed this time around. And the best part of it was that Dean obviously had no idea that Sam was currently making fun of him. Dean worked his jaw for a second, obviously incapable of finding an appropriate comeback to that one.

"You're bigoted. Set in your ways. A routine addict," Sam pressed on. "Anything that's out of the ordinary from your – let's face it – lousy diet has to be made fun of immediately. You never give it a chance."

Dean shut his mouth and just stared at him for a second, then diverted his attention to the rest of the diner. Sam could almost see the gears shifting in his head while he worked on how to get back at Sam for this stab. Sam merely made a face and slumped back in his seat.

After a bit, the waitress brought them their respective orders and Sam picked up the tall glass the Chai was served in and inhaled the almost heady scent of vanilla and spices for a moment before chancing a glance at his brother over the rim of the glass. Dean eyed him for a moment, then shifted his attention to the glass. Sam was sure he was going to ask for a taste, but then Dean made a face and turned his attention to his plate.

Sam took a sip of his tea and set the glass down again. "It's like liquid candy," he suddenly said, not sure why he was so eager for Dean to try something new.

Dean glanced at him. "I like what I like. Deal with it," he insisted, his tone annoyed.

Sam arched his eyebrows and settled for enjoying his Chai in peace. Dean was being stubborn right now, which meant he wouldn't try the Chai. But Sam knew he would probably do it at some point and most likely when Sam wasn't around. The idea made him smirk and he was quick to hide that smirk under the guise a cough.


Bobby's place
Fort Pierre, SD
Around 10 p.m.

Dean was tired. More so, he was fed up with Sam's weird mood. He knew that Sam had managed to pull one over on him somewhere along the road, but he just wasn't entirely sure when it had happened. And it just wouldn't do that Sam could upstage him on that front.

He turned off the engine and glanced up at the house, which was bathed in moonlight. It was cold out there, but there wasn't really any snow around here. He figured there would be in St. John, though, which made it imperative for him to get some snowshoes on his baby.

Sam opened his door and got out, letting a gust of icy wind into the car. Dean shuddered briefly, then opened his own door and climbed out as well. He had called ahead to warn Bobby of their impending arrival and the older hunter had sounded happy to hear from them.

With a sigh, Dean shut the door and walked around to the trunk. "Warmer climate would do wonders just around now," he grumbled and opened the lid.

Sam stepped up on the other side and grabbed his duffle. "Well, if your diet wasn't so crappy, you wouldn't freeze so much," he claimed.

With a roll of the eyes, Dean grabbed his own duffle and slammed the lid on the trunk, then turned to face Sam. "Would you stop bitching about my diet already?" he snapped, then suddenly realized where it had gone wrong. He narrowed his eyes at his brother. "It's because I wouldn't try that damned tea," he stated.

"Chai," Sam corrected him, "and no, it has nothing to do with that. You've been in a grumpy mood all day. I'm sure it has to do with what you eat."

"I am not grumpy," Dean growled. "I'm tired, Sam, okay?"

His confession to being tired took Sam aback. He had obviously not expected Dean to be so frank about it. He blinked and took a step back. Whatever joy he'd gotten out of the situation before had evaporated instantly.

"I'm just tired," he repeated. "Just ... leave it alone for now, okay? I say we conk out here for a few days if Bobby will have us that long and then we'll go to St. John and take a look around. If that's a bust too, we're heading toward the sun."

Sam eyed him for a moment, something in his expression telling Dean that he had changed his tune for now. "Okay," he agreed quietly, turned and headed toward the house.

Dean briefly closed his eyes and sighed lightly. At least Sam would give him some peace for the time being. Or at least he hoped he would.

Before they could reach the porch, the front door opened and Bobby stepped out. "There you are," he said. "I was beginning to worry."

"Yeah, well, without snow tires, we can't go that fast," Sam said and glanced back at Dean.

"And why in Hell didn't you get those on when the snow started coming down?" Bobby asked and eyed them both critically.

Dean could just hear him calling them idiots. "Shit happens," he said, shrugged it off as not important, and ascended the stairs.

"Well, come on in. It's bloody freezing out here," Bobby said and stepped aside to let them in.

They lugged their duffels inside and upstairs before joining Bobby in the living room. Bobby eyed them both for a moment. "So, the Cody job was a bust, I take it?" he asked.

Dean arched an eyebrow while Sam nodded. "Yeah, it looks like it," he agreed.

Bobby shifted his attention solely to Dean and he eyed him closely for a moment. "I get the feeling you've got another job lined up," he said.

Dean and Sam glanced at each other. It was impossible to hide anything from Bobby. "Yeah, kinda. Looks like it could be our kind of gig," Dean agreed. "A bunch of kids have gone missing in this small town called St. John in North Dakota over the past six months. Seems weird enough for us to look into it."

Bobby nodded. "That explains the snow tires," he muttered and rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "So, you're heading out tomorrow?"

"Or the day after," Dean agreed. "Unless you've got other plans?"

Bobby shook his head. "Nah, I've got nothing. Just a bit of fact checking right now for a guy in Texas. Nothing big," he said. "You're welcome to stay for however long you want."

Dean could almost feel the weight dropping off his shoulders at those words. He couldn't really say why he was so hell-bent on staying here a few days, but it felt like the right thing to do and he had a habit of going with his gut instinct. "Thanks," he said and glanced at this watch. Ten thirty seemed a bit early to turn in, but if he was honest with himself, he was worn out.

"I've got a few things I want to check up on," Sam said. He had lugged his bag downstairs again.

"Make yourselves at home. You know where everything is," Bobby said, then glanced at Dean as Sam dropped down on the couch and dug his laptop out.

"I think I'm gonna turn in," Dean finally said. As much as he hated admitting defeat even on such a small scale, he hated driving while he was dead tired even more. And in this house it was okay to leave Sam on his own. He almost smiled at that thought. Sam wasn't alone here. Bobby was here.

"Might be a good idea. You look like a hanged cat," Bobby said, his tone serious.

"Just tired," Dean replied, turned around and left the living room to head upstairs. He had considered a long, hot shower, but that would have to wait until morning. Right now, all he could focus on was a bed and there was no better bed than a well-known one.


Sam watched Dean go for a second, then made a face and focused on his laptop. All of a sudden he felt sorry for being such a pain the entire day, but then if Dean had told him earlier that he was tired, Sam would have left him alone.

"What's going on with you two?" Bobby asked.

Sam smirked. "Boy, you don't miss a beat, do you?" he asked and looked up to meet Bobby's eyes. "Dean's been cranky all day. I just ... didn't get that he was tired until he said it right after we arrived."

"Sounds to me like you're both walking the tightrope here," Bobby implied and settled down on one armchair. "How's he holding up in general?"

"Could be better, I guess," Sam admitted and scratched the back of his head for a second. "You know Dean. He doesn't know when to quit."

"Sounds like your dad," Bobby said and glanced toward the doorway to the hallway beyond. "He didn't know when to quit either."

"Must be genetic," Sam muttered and realized that he was tired too. "I think I'll turn in too. It's been a long day."

"This is the second hunt in a row that's been a bust, Sam. You two have more energy coming off a successful hunt than you do when you don't hunt," Bobby said and eyed Sam questioningly. "Why is that?"

Sam shrugged. "Adrenaline rush, I guess," he said. "Dean's always wired after a hunt. That's why he always insists on going out drinking. And then he usually just sleeps for a day after."

"Him I get," Bobby admitted. "But you?"

Sam sighed and closed the lid on the laptop again. "I don't know," he said and made a face. "I guess Dean's fatigue is rubbing off on me," he added with a tired grin. "We spend too much time together in close quarters. It's bound to happen."

Bobby made a non-committal grunt. "You can leave that down here. No need to lug it back upstairs," he said and nodded at the laptop.

With a nod, Sam placed it on top of a pile of books on the coffee table and rose. "Thanks for putting us up," he said. "I think this means a lot more to Dean right now than you might think."

"I kinda get that feeling too," Bobby agreed and rose too. "I just got to finish up a few things before I turn in myself. Sleep tight," he added and disappeared into the den.

"Likewise," Sam said and headed upstairs himself. He wasn't the least bit surprised to realize that Dean was out cold when he stepped into the room they shared.

As quietly as possible, he got undressed, slipped under the covers and just lay there for a moment. Then he closed his eyes, focused on Dean's even breathing and let that lull him to sleep.


For the next two days, they stayed with Bobby until Dean ran out of excuses to linger. Since it took only half an hour to change the tires, and that was everything included, Dean couldn't use that as an excuse for staying. The Impala had never run better than she did right now either.

Bobby generally told them not to leave the following day because Dean, in his humble opinion, still looked like a hanged cat. And Dean had to agree. He looked like he hadn't slept all night, even though he hadn't been awake even once. It had actually surprised him that he had neither heard Sam go to bed or get back up eight hours later. And when he had finally managed to drag his sleep-heavy body out of bed himself, it had been close to noon.

"I've seen many men look tired in my life," Bobby commented when he shuffled into the kitchen and blinked blearily at Sam and Bobby. "But I don't think I've ever seen anyone look like that after ..." here he checked his watch, "twelve hours of sleep. Are you on something?"

Dean refused to answer that question, patted over to the coffee machine on bare feet and poured himself a cup, then sank down on a chair at the cluttered table and wrapped both hands around the cup.

Bobby glanced at Sam, who shrugged lightly. "Give him a moment," he suggested.

Dean blinked almost sluggishly at the coffee, then took a sip. He took the time he needed to get his act together before he focused on Bobby. "What?" he asked. It wasn't that he hadn't heard the comment or the question, but he just couldn't focus on anything before the coffee right now.

Bobby arched an eyebrow, glanced at Sam who smirked, and then back at Dean, who watched him almost wearily. "I don't think it's a good idea if you guys go anywhere today," he finally said. "Stay until tomorrow. I'll put the new tires on the car today and you," he said and eyed Dean closely, "you'd better take the day off completely."

Still not entirely awake, Dean shifted his attention to Sam, who met his eyes with a small smile on his lips. "Sure," he agreed and returned his attention to his coffee. They both needed a day off and the idea of being able to go back to bed and stay there was enticing like hell. It was the fact that he didn't need to keep his guard up in this house which allowed him to relax and that in turn completely drained him of any drive or energy. Sam was protected as long as Bobby was around and that gave Dean the much needed opportunity to drop all his defenses and catch up on his sleep.

"You hungry?" Bobby asked.

"Always," Dean agreed. "What've you got?"

"What do you want?" Bobby asked and got up.

Dean considered the question, then glanced at Sam for help. He had no idea what to say right now. All he knew was that he was hungry.

"I got it," Sam said, got up and got busy while Bobby sat back down and eyed Dean closely.

"You look like shit, Dean," he finally said.

That produced a lopsided smirk. "You should see the other guy," he chided.

Bobby rolled his eyes. "Do you ever stop joking?"

"Only on Sundays," Dean said and leaned back on his chair, then glanced down at his bare feet. "Do you have any idea how frigging cold this floor is?"

"It's twenty degrees outside, you idjit," Bobby scoffed, picked up a book and started leafing through it. "Put some shoes on if you're cold."

Dean sneered halfheartedly at the idea of having to get up again, then figured he could handle it and instead pulled his feet up on the chair.

A moment later Sam placed a plate laden with food in front of him, then dropped down on his abandoned chair again and turned his attention to the laptop.

Dean eyed the plate, then smirked and glanced over at Sam, who was pretending not to notice him. But Dean could see the faint jerking at the corners of his lips, telling Dean that Sam was having a hard time suppressing a smile. Nothing in this world beat non-verbal communication in Dean's opinion. He didn't have to say anything and still Sam knew what he wanted.

For the rest of the day he did absolutely nothing. Sam was busy, helping Bobby with various things, but Dean just lounged around the house and didn't feel guilty for it even once. He didn't think about the next job, nor did he worry about the last ones. He just put his mind in idle and kept it there and it recharged him like nothing else could.

By the time they hit the sack in the evening, Dean felt a hell of a lot better than he had in a while.

"So, what'd you do today?" he asked Sam and gave him a grin when Sam eyed him suspiciously.

"Uh ... helped Bobby out. What did you do?" he countered, reached over and switched the lamp sitting on the night stand between the two beds off.

"Nothing," Dean said and stretched out on the bed. "Nothing at all."

"Yeah, I noticed," Sam agreed. "Do you feel better now?"

"I feel fine," Dean agreed.

"Good. Are we going to St. John tomorrow or ..." Sam trailed off and rolled over on his side, angled his arm under his head and watched Dean.

"It's a job," Dean countered. "I don't see why we shouldn't."

A moment of silence settled on the room while Dean felt Sam watching him intently. He knew there was something on Sam's mind. "What was up with you yesterday?" Sam finally asked.

Dean dropped the charade right there and then. No matter how much he wanted Sam to believe he was fine, he knew Sam didn't believe it and there was a time and a place for everything. "I was tired. Dead tired," he admitted. "I don't know why. Maybe it's because we haven't found a decent hunt in a while. I mean ... what the hell was up with that Cody place?"

"No idea. It looked like a hunt from the outside," Sam said. "And the one before that? What was that all about? It had all the indications of a wendigo and then it's a rabid bear? I did not see that coming."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, that was weird," he agreed. "Let's hope this gig in St. John is something along our line of work," he added and glanced over at Sam.

"Well, with our luck lately ... it might not be," he considered, rolled over on his back and folded his hands behind his head while he stared up at the ceiling above him. "Do you sometimes get the feeling like ... we're being nudged in a general direction?" he asked after a moment.

Dean frowned while watching an odd pattern of shadows on the ceiling above the window. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm just jumpy with everything that's been going on. I just ... feel like ..." Sam snorted lightly. "I'm just jumpy," he concluded.

Something told Dean that Sam wasn't just being jumpy and he actually had to admit – to himself at least – that he felt that way sometimes too. Lately it had been pretty pronounced and he figured it had a lot to do with why these two last hunts had ended up in nothing. He considered telling Sam that he knew what he meant, but decided not to. No reason to make a big thing out of what was probably nothing. "Yeah, you're jumpy," he agreed with a smirk. "Now go to sleep."

Sam tsk'ed from the other bed and Dean had to stifle the urge to laugh. When the mood hit him, Sammy could be a real goof ball. Dean wasn't going to encourage that, though. That was his corner of the market.


Dean's mood had improved by leaps and bounds by the following morning and that in turn made Sam feel better about everything. Of course, the deal hanging over Dean's head was hard to forget about, but at times Sam did manage to push it to the back of his head. But he was constantly aware of the danger to his brother's life.

He scolded himself silently for even going there and pushed the gloominess aside as Dean lugged his duffle down the stairs while singing under his breath. Sam smiled vaguely and followed him.

"What is that? Zeppelin?" Sam asked.

"In the light," Dean confirmed. "I can't find the tape, though," he added and sent a suspicious glance back at Sam.

"Dude, I don't touch your tapes," he said. "And I have no idea what your system is anyway," he added.

"Yeah, right," Dean grumbled, then grinned and launched right back into the song.

Sometimes Sam couldn't help wondering what Dean would have been like if this crap had never happened to them. What would he have been like if he had grown up in a loving home? The thought made him a little sad, though, and it just became another thing he shoved under the carpet to be dealt with later. This wasn't the time or the place.

"You guys ready to go?" Bobby asked as he stepped through from the living room, drying his hands on a rag.

"Yeah, just about," Dean said. "You got any idea what the weather's like up there?" he asked.

"Snow, snow and more snow," Bobby stated and eyed him for a moment. "Well, at least you no longer look like a hanged cat," he added, a glint in his eyes.

"Hey!" Dean huffed indignantly. "It's not a crime to be tired, you know."

"No, it's not," Bobby agreed. "But you damned near looked like someone had drowned you about a month ago when you arrived."

Dean rolled his eyes, but said nothing in reply to that. "I hate driving in snow," he muttered instead and dumped his duffle on the floor.

"Then let Sam drive," Bobby suggested.

Sam made a face. That was so not gonna happen. Not that he had any issues with driving in snow, but Dean barely let him drive the Impala on a sunny day, let alone if there was even a vague chance of them ending up in a ditch because of icy roads.

Dean gave Bobby a look full of stunned surprise. "What? No way," he shot back.

The only reply Bobby had for that was a sigh and a light shake of the head. "Be careful out there. And stay in touch," he said instead.

They both nodded and left the house to drop their duffels in the trunk of the Impala. Dean briefly hunkered down to inspect the new tires and rapped a knuckled against one a few times. "Nice," he cooed and straightened up again.

"You did a fine job, rebuilding her," Bobby said and eyed the car with appreciation. "Gotta say, I've salvaged a lot of wrecks over the years, but I never thought that one would be drivable again."

Dean smirked with satisfaction at the underhanded praise. "Yeah, well, she's home, you know?"

Bobby nodded. He knew alright. "Drive safely," he said and went back inside.

Dean and Sam got in the car and moments later they were on the road, heading north toward North Dakota and St. John.

Sam grabbed the box with the tapes from the backseat and rooted through it for a moment, then smirked when he found the tape Dean claimed not to be able to find. He didn't even show it to Dean, but just shoved it into the cassette player and pushed the play button.

Dean was seemingly not paying attention to what Sam was doing, but Sam did notice the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth when the music started spilling from the speakers and after a moment he reached over and turned the volume up.

Sam made a face, but kept any opinion to himself. For whatever reason he couldn't readily define right now, keeping his brother happy seemed to be his only agenda today.