Holly turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Although it didn't get him out of the house, it distracted him to the extreme. She was tall, leggy and bottle-blond and there was nothing innocent about her big baby blues.

Despite the snow, she wore a miniskirt and a short jacket, which suggested she hadn't gone far. "Oh man, look at you," she exclaimed when she saw Dean.

Grace took her jacket. "Don't get too bouncy, Hol. He's got broken ribs too," she said, winked at Dean who could honestly admit to being mortified for the first time in his life, and then she disappeared upstairs.

"Hey Dean," Holly cooed and settled down on the couch next to him.

He felt a little bit funny about this at first, but she was one hot number and it didn't take him more than a minute before he could distract himself from the fact that his aunt had set him up with this girl. "Hey Holly," he countered and smirked at her.

There was no doubt in his mind that she was his type and Grace was right. The girl didn't seem to know the meaning of the word awkward. She ran a finger experimentally up the cast, the rapped a knuckle against it. "It must be a bitch to shower with this thing on," she said.

"It's not easy, but I manage," he said and eyed her appreciatively.

"How about a beer?" she suggested, got up and disappeared into the kitchen only to return with not only two bottles of beer but a bowl of chips and some dip. "Grace knows how to party, huh?" she chuckled and put the whole thing down on the coffee table, then grabbed the remote and found MTV. "They've got a good selection on tonight. Classic rock. You like that?" she asked and flopped back down on the couch.

"Do I ever," Dean agreed and slipped an arm around her back. She nestled against him and they watched television and drank beer and Dean couldn't help grinning like a goon. Finally someone who understood and appreciated his needs. Grace was like a damned guardian angel.

The more they drank, the closer she got and after a while, she lost interest in the TV-set and took a more profound interest in him. She straddled his lap and he could honestly say that he'd never seen a more inviting vision in his life. "You know, all this stuff," she said huskily and ran her fingers over his chest, feeling the bandage underneath that kept his ribs stabilized, "is one hell of a turn-on."

"Really?" he muttered, his attention locked on the white blouse she was wearing and how it became almost transparent when she had the light of the TV behind her. "It kinda makes it difficult for me to show you the attention I want to show you," he said and frowned lightly at the thought.

She leaned in and pressed a kiss onto his brow, then brushed her fingers through his hair. "Why don't you let me do the attention-showing then?" she whispered.

***

Sam shifted his left arm onto the edge of the desk, taking the weight off his shoulder, and made a face at the screen. Grace was into big screens and it made research easier on the eyes. The office chair was comfortable enough to accommodate his lanky frame while he did the research he felt he needed to do.

"Hey."

He looked up and met Grace's eyes. "Hey," he said.

"This weather is starting to take its toll," she said and strolled into the room to take a peek at what he was doing. "Researching demons?" she asked.

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "The more we know about them, the better."

"True," she consented.

"Have you gotten used to the idea yet?" he asked and smirked.

Grace settled a hand on his shoulder and leaned in a little to take a closer look at the page he had opened only minutes ago. "I don't think I'll ever get used to it," she confessed. "But you have to give me credit for trying. I think I've taken this whole thing very nicely."

"You have," he said. "Where's Dean?"

"Oh, he's a bit preoccupied at the moment," Grace said and smiled wistfully. "Holly came over."

Sam frowned. "Holly? Who's Holly?" He glanced toward the doorway as if the answer might lie in wait there and frowned lightly.

"Neighbor's daughter. She's a bit of a free spirit and I really don't think Dean can handle being cooped up with the two of us for much longer without some distraction." Grace glanced down at his shoulder. "You're incredibly tense, Sam," she added.

He flexed his shoulders a little. "It's the cast. It's heavy as hell," he said while mulling over what she had just said about Holly. Then he glanced up at her with a frown furrowing his brow. "Wait a minute ... you set Dean up with a girl?" he asked and arched an eyebrow.

"Well ... I wouldn't call it a set-up. I just think he needs the distraction and I know Holly's more than willing to provide distractions. She's going bonkers over there. That girl's out every damned night normally and the snow is making that impossible right now. And I have a feeling that Dean's not really the stay-at-home type either." Grace eyed him, then stepped behind the chair and started massaging his shoulders again. "You think this is a bad idea?"

He could barely concentrate on thinking straight right now. He let his head drop forward and closed his eyes. "It's not that," he finally said. "It's just ... you're our aunt."

Grace chuckled. "I've been around tense people all my life, Sam. First my parents, then as a paramedic. You can't have prudish sensibilities about life when you deal with all sorts of people on a daily basis. And I've had enough of prudes after dealing with my mother all my life," she said. "Guys like Dean tend to go a little overboard if they're cooped up inside for any length of time. The best thing is to distract them. The same goes for Holly."

Sam couldn't help a smile, albeit a rueful one. "Are you saying I should get him a girl when he gets tense?" he asked.

Grace laughed out loud. "Might be worth considering, Sam," she agreed and let go of his shoulders. "So, what are you researching? Anything interesting?"

Her curiosity slapped some seriousness back into the situation and he raised his head and cracked his neck, then focused on the screen. He couldn't very well tell her that he was researching how to get Dean out of his deal, could he? "Just trying to figure out how to get people out of deals made with demons," he said, generalizing it. Hell, if he could find a way to get Dean out of this deal, it would definitely help on future jobs as well.

"Deals?" Grace asked. "Like deals with the devil?"

"Yeah, something like that. Some people sell their souls. I'm just trying to find a way to get ... them out of the deal," he said.

"Can't you buy yourself out of a deal like that?" Grace asked.

"Human souls are a commodity that demons like. It's hard to find a replacement for that," he said. "Unless you find someone they want more. But that's usually not ... easy."

"You mean replace one person for another?" she asked and Sam nodded. "That doesn't really sound like a good solution."

"Oh, it isn't," he agreed and couldn't help the shudder that rippled through him. "But sometimes it's ... the only way."

She remained silent for a moment while still standing behind the chair, and Sam wondered what was going through her head right now. She probably thought he was nuts or something. "Are you working on an actual case right now?" she finally asked.

Sam pursed his lips. Damn, she was sharp. "Kinda," he half admitted.

"This is what John did for a living? Hunt demons, break people out of their deals?" she asked. She pulled a chair over and sat down next to him.

Sam glanced at her, at the way she kept staring at the screen with that slight frown furrowing her brow, and her similarity to dad was outrageous right now. He pressed his lips together and returned his attention to the screen, desperately wishing for the solution to jump right up and present itself. "Yeah," he agreed quietly. He didn't think dad had ever actually broken a deal for anyone, but he figured the man would have if he could have.

She sighed. "What a life you're living." She didn't exactly sound like she was envious. "It must be dangerous."

"At times. Most times we get away without too many bruises though," he replied.

"Sam ... can I ask you a question?" She glanced at him and smiled vaguely, but the look in her eyes was still troubled.

"Sure," he said.

"Is something wrong with Dean apart from the injuries?" she asked.

He frowned. "Wrong? What do you mean?" He wasn't sure where she was heading with this. Her tone made him a little cautious. How much did she know?

"You and I talked about his self-worth issues the other day, but I have the feeling that this goes deeper than him essentially being insecure about his own worth. He seems almost ... borderline frantic. Volatile I think is the right word for it. Like ... he's afraid of something." She glanced at him, the look she gave him scrutinizing.

"I don't know what to tell you. Dean's always been a bit on the frantic side," he said and shrugged lightly. If the deal was to be discussed, Dean would have to make the first move. "And it's not because he's afraid either," he hastily added. "There's not a whole lot out there that scares Dean."

"Really?" Grace sounded a tad doubtful about that. "He strikes me as being plenty scared though. I think he's just toughing it out."

Sam squinted at her. Either she was really, really good at reading others or she just recognized something in Dean she had seen before. "Dean doesn't admit to fear," he amended. That technically didn't mean anything, really, but he felt it brought the point across more potently than if he stuck to his previous explanation. Of course Dean had fears. Everybody did. Anyone would with a deal like this hanging over their head.

"Which can be a problem in its own right," Grace said and sighed. "I just have the feeling that something's going on here that you boys aren't telling me." She raised both hands in a deprecating gesture and leaned back on her chair. "Not that I'm pushing. We haven't known each other that long yet. I essentially have no real right to ask you questions you don't want to answer."

Withdrawal was his thing, not Dean's, not dad's. Grace was fairly good at pulling back too, which again made him wonder if she wasn't more like him and less like Dean or dad. He considered the implications of telling her exactly what the next six months held, of where their lives were heading and how damned dangerous it was going to be, and decided not to yet again.

"What?" Grace glanced at him, obviously having noticed how close he had gotten to telling her.

He shook his head, shifted his gaze to the computer screen again. "Nothing," he lied and wondered if she bought it.

She didn't. Her eyes hardened a little. Technically he wasn't lying to her. Technically, he hadn't said anything she could misinterpret. But he decided right there and then that she was exceptional at reading others and she knew what was going on in his head and it scared him. Sam didn't get scared of a whole lot of things either. With the exception of clowns, of course. And losing Dean. Not necessarily in that order.

Her features mellowed out again. She obviously decided she had no right to push him and he appreciated that. He wondered if she was used to living with others and figured she wasn't, not since her husband had died anyway. And her kid. It struck him like a mental slap. Her son. His cousin. They'd had family there for a bit, maybe someone who had been more like him. With her as a mom that could have been likely. It was hard to tell what a kid was gonna turn out as at six months, of course, but still. He blinked almost owlishly at the screen, then knitted his brow and glanced toward the open door to the hallway. There were sounds ... "Aw man," he groaned when he identified the sounds.

Grace frowned, glanced at the door, then back at Sam. "What?" she asked.

"Could you close the door?" he asked and gave her an innocent look.

Grace rose, walked over there, her hand coming to rest on the doorknob and then she stopped, cocked her head to the right, and Sam knew she was hearing what he was hearing. She had her back to him, making her reaction to this a guess. Then she closed the door and turned back to face him, one brow arched. "He doesn't waste any time, does he?" she asked, a little surprised, and Sam figured she hadn't exactly had this in mind for Dean.

Sam grimaced. "No, not if he can help it," he agreed. "I hope this Holly isn't looking for a permanent hookup here. Because she's not gonna get it from Dean." For more reasons than one, he thought.

"Holly doesn't believe in the institute of marriage," Grace said and sent a somewhat guarded look toward the door. "It gets in the way of her fun-time," she added and actually snorted with repressed laughter. "When I suggested this, I thought it might be good for him to see someone other than us. I wasn't exactly expecting ..." She trailed off and waved a hand in the air, then started laughing. "Jeez."

Sam refrained from responding to that. "I hope you have no plans of going down there any time soon. It could take a while," he said and sent her a furtive glance. Sam could imagine dad's response to this and was a little surprised by Grace's take on the situation.

She laughed again and shook her head. "Well, as long as he's having fun and doesn't ... sprain anything," she said and cleared her throat.

All things considered, it was kinda funny. Just not on the backdrop of the deal. Not much was funny these days, at least not in Sam's opinion, and he had a hard time digging out a smile to that one. Instead of trying, he focused on the monitor again and pressed his lips together into a thin line.

His expression sobered Grace right up too. He could feel her looking at him, but refused to return her gaze. "Why are you looking into deals now?" she asked.

"I already told you," he said, stopped himself from saying more and drew in a deep breath and held it. He had no business telling her about it. Not yet. If Dean wanted her to know, he would have to tell her himself. In another few weeks – was it six? Jeez, he was going to get cabin fever before they were through here – they would be gone again, on the road, hunting evil, and she might never be the wiser. Sam intended to stay in touch with her if he could, but he didn't really know where Dean stood on the subject. Dean with his blind love of family. If he adopted Grace as their aunt – something Sam didn't think he'd really gotten around to yet – then there was nothing in Hell that could keep Dean from her. Dad's sister was as close to dad as they were gonna get now and that alone had to be putting Dean through the wringer.

Sam figured his brother hadn't dealt with the implications yet, because that was just what Dean did. He didn't deal, he moved on. But the time would come when the reaction would explode out of him and Sam had no idea what to expect. Sometimes his brother was like a slumbering volcano. Nobody was the wiser until he suddenly erupted and blew his top. And it usually wasn't a gradual thing either. One minute the guy was humming along to Metallica or whatever was on his top ten list that day, the next he was pouting or angry over something he wouldn't share, and if Sam poked him in just the right way, he blew up.

Grace shrugged lightly. "Not my business anyway," she said and glanced at her watch before sending a look toward the door.

"You should be so lucky," Sam said and gave her a brief smile. "With the injuries he has, it probably won't be an all-nighter, but I wouldn't count on any fast resolutions here."

Grace gave him a look he couldn't really interpret, then she shrugged again. "Not a problem. I'll just ... go to bed early. Feel free to use the guestroom up here. I doubt you'll get much sleep downstairs," she said and rose.

Sam watched her go and definitely couldn't help liking her. She was like dad and yet so different. Despite what she had experienced, what she had lived through, and what they had told her, she was upbeat and found it easy to smile. He didn't really relish the thought of having to let her in on Dean's little secret, though. Then again, with a little luck, they'd find a way out of it and would never have to tell her about it.

***

A week later

Holly almost became a permanent fixture over the next week, but when the snow started withdrawing and the weather forecast announced better weather ahead, she disappeared. Dean wasn't exactly upset about it, though. He liked Holly. She was a lot of fun and as careless as anyone could be, but she wasn't a collector's item.

It didn't take much reduction in the snow masses outside before Grace was out of the house for walks, shopping and whatever else she did. Sam spent a lot of time upstairs on the computer, a gadget he kept raving about whenever Dean had the urge to listen, and that left Dean pretty much on his own.

After Holly stopped showing up, he was fine with a bit of alone-time, but it didn't take more than a few days before he got antsy again. The cast was driving him nuts. His leg was itching most of the time from the tips of his toes, which he couldn't reach, to just below the upper edge of the cast, just out of reach of his fingers. His ribs were healing, but still sore and the gash on his forehead was almost gone. Grace had marveled at the fact that he healed up so nicely, something he didn't care about because of the constant itch. On account of it, he slept badly and since the cast made it almost impossible for him to move properly, he continuously spent most of his time on the couch in the living room or in bed.

He had always been convinced that stationary life was not for him and this was abundant proof that he would go stark-raving mad if he had to stay in one place for any longer period of time. And there was just so much on television that he could stand seeing before it became repetitive and boring.

Two and a half weeks into their stay with Grace, Dean generally felt like he was losing it. He sat there on the couch, his head leaned back, while he stared up at the ceiling and tried to will himself into a coma or something equally exciting. It had to be better than this.

Pebble had taken a liking to his cast and used it to sharpen her claws, which she did enthusiastically while purring loudly. And he let her, because it was a distraction from a whole stinking pile of nothing and the childish part of him hoped she would scratch the cast into oblivion.

"Sam?" he called and sent a glance toward the stairs. There was no reply from upstairs. "SAM!" he tried again, this time a little louder. Grace was out shopping or something and he swore he would lose what little mind he had left if he didn't get something other than the sawing-sound that Pebble made to distract him. "SAM!"

"What?" came the reply.

"Get down here," he called.

It took a moment, but then Sam finally came downstairs. "What is it? Are you okay?" he asked, a brief flare of concern overshadowing his obvious annoyance at being interrupted.

"I'm bored out of my skull. Entertain me," Dean said and gave him a grin for his trouble.

"With what?" Sam asked and shifted the sling holding his cast into a more comfortable position.

"I don't know, do I? If I knew, I could entertain myself." Dean wasn't prone to whining, but he was getting damned close right now.

"Why don't you watch some movie?" Sam suggested.

"Because I've watched every damned movie on the tube and I'm fed up with it. I need to get out of this house before I lose my mind." He scrubbed both hands over his face, briefly inspected his wrists, then hung both arms over the back of the couch.

Sam sighed. "This is gonna be fun, isn't it?" he asked.

"What?" Dean wondered if he'd missed something Sam had said. It was likely.

"We've been here what ... two and a half weeks? And you're already climbing the walls. And that cast isn't coming off for another three weeks at least." He looked unhappy at the prospect. "I think I'm gonna go for a walk," he added.

"Oh no, you don't. You're not leaving me here alone," Dean snapped and straightened up. "Stop using my leg as a scratching post, critter," he barked at Pebble, who eyed him indifferently, stuck her nose up and sauntered away. "Prude," he growled while watching the cat leave.

"I'm not going to stay in the same room with you when you're in this mood, Dean. What about Holly?" Sam countered.

"She's off somewhere," Dean said. "She can walk, after all." He groaned and pressed both palms against his face for a minute. "Man, I need a night out. Soon. Before I lose my frigging mind here," he whined.

"You've got cabin fever, dude," Sam announced.

"Ya think?" Dean snapped and let his hands drop away. "You're so damned fast on the uptake, aren't you, Dr. Winchester?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Bite me. I don't have to stand around here and listen to this, Dean," he said, turned around and disappeared back upstairs.

"Coward," Dean yelled after him, then hauled his left foot up on the coffee table and eyed his still discolored toe for a moment. He wiggled it lightly and made a face. "Screw this. I wanna see what he's up to," he muttered, grabbed the crutches and heaved himself to his feet. Although the thought of having to climb a flight of stairs was a bit daunting, he wasn't a quitter, and even though it was slow going, he actually managed to get up the stairs without falling on his ass.

A little out of breath – 'damn, I'm in bad shape', he thought – he paused at the top of the stairs and eyed the hallway, then made his way over to the first door on the left and opened it. There was the TV-room and the big-assed set Grace had mentioned. Fifty inches. He stared at the flat screen mounted on the wall for a moment, then sent a look around the room. There was a comfortable looking couch and two armchairs and he decided that any TV-watching would happen up here from now on. He closed the door again and shifted over to the door on the opposite side, which revealed the guestroom Sam had spent a few nights in while Holly had been around. "Neat freak," he muttered at the excessively tidy room.

"Dean!"

Sam's exclamation nearly made him lose his balance and he was a little too close to the stairs for a stunt like that. "Jeez, Sam," Dean snapped and barely caught himself in time.

"How the hell did you get up here?" Sam demanded, looking a little stunned.

Dean eyed him for a moment, not entirely certain his brother was firing on all synapses right now. "I flew," he countered sourly. "How the hell do you think I got up here, brainiac?"

"Dean ... you're in no condition for that," Sam tried.

"Screw that. I'm getting bedsores from sitting on that damned couch all day and my stamina is all shot to hell. I need to get up and move around," he countered. "Where's that computer you keep raving about?" he asked.

Sam made a face and stepped aside. "Just don't break anything," he said. "And I don't mean on you."

"Ha-ha, you're funny, you know that?" Dean hobbled past him and entered the office. He could only assume that the last door was to Grace's bedroom. "Who the hell needs this many rooms?" he asked and glanced back at Sam.

"Apparently Grace does," Sam said and followed him in.

"Wow. That's one big screen," Dean said and eased down into the office chair. "Nice," he cooed and put the crutches aside. "No wonder you spend all day up here."

"It beats listening to you bitching about how bored you are. You could read a book or something, you know," Sam tried.

"Nice try. You've had access to this thing for two weeks. My turn," Dean said and gave him a big grin.

Sam made a face. "Fine," he said and turned to leave.

"Hey. Where are you going?" Dean asked.

"Dean, quite honestly, you're driving me nuts with your attitude right now," Sam confessed.

Dean eyed him for a moment, then slumped back in the chair. "Looks like I'm not the only one with cabin fever, huh?" he asked. "Look, Sammy, neither of us are used to being cooped up in one place for this long ... at least not without being able to get out of the house at least now and again." He glanced at the screen again, then frowned. "Sam, what the hell are you looking into here?" His mood took an instant nose-dive. "Are you researching how to get me out of that deal?"

"No," Sam lied.

"Bullshit. I told you not to get into that, Sam," Dean snapped, suddenly angry. "I know you want to find a way out, but that's a no-go. I already told you what will happen if ..."

"If you try to get out of it, yes," Sam cut him off. "That crossroads demon didn't specifically say anything about me. Or did you forget to mention that?"

Dean glared at him. "We can't risk it, Sam. What if she meant you too?" He shut down the pages Sam had been checking. "Stop trying to find a way out, Sam. You'll end up dead and I'm not ..." He stopped short when the front door downstairs opened and closed. "We're not discussing this in front of Grace," he added.

"She's our aunt, man," Sam said, exasperation thick in his voice. "She has a right to know."

"No, she doesn't. Hell, I didn't even want you to know. And Bobby wouldn't have known either if he hadn't been there when you ..." Dean stopped talking and sighed deeply while shifting his attention to the computer screen again.

"When I died?" Sam clarified.

"Dean?" Grace called from downstairs.

"Up here," he called back.

A moment later, she turned up in the doorway. "Well, that's a change," she said with a smile, which faded almost instantly and was replaced by a frown. "Something wrong?" she asked and glanced from one to the other.

"Nope, nothing wrong. Sammy's just pissed because I took over the computer," Dean said and gave her a bright smile.

Sam kept glaring at him and Dean had the bad feeling that it wouldn't be long before Sam spilled the beans on this one to Grace. If the woman knew how to whittle the truth out of people – and he had a feeling she did – Sam wouldn't be able to resist.

"If you say so," Grace countered. "Can I get you boys anything?"

"Nah, we're good. Right, Sam?" Dean gave Sam a warning look and his brother pursed his lips in that characteristic stubborn way he had. "Don't take it so hard, Sammy. You know my attention span is zero when it comes to computers."

"Yeah, we may wanna close the door here. He likes porn sites," Sam shot back, his tone almost caustic.

Grace smiled vaguely. "Well, I'm gonna get something to eat. Holler if you want anything," she said, turned around and went back downstairs.

The brothers stared at each other for a moment. Then Sam sighed and dropped his gaze. "You're impossible," he growled, turned and left too.

Dean slumped back into the chair for a moment, then grabbed his crutches and got back to this feet. He was aching already from straining himself, but he felt the need to make sure that Sam didn't tell Grace about this. At least not yet.