The haunting cry of an eagle owl split the darkening Caledonian sky as a tiny car passed beneath it.
Leaving the majesty of Castle Eilean Donan behind it, the little hatchback bravely negotiated unlit winding roads and unpredictable wildlife as it patiently made it's long journey south towards Edinburgh Airport.
Inside the little car, the two distinctly un-little occupants sat, uncomfortably wedged into the tiny cabin; Sam with his knees pointing somewhere around the vicinity of his armpits and Dean straddling the steering wheel, trying hard not to kneecap himself on the gearstick.
The atmosphere was stilted. Both men were cramped and uncomfortable, irritable after a sour confrontation with that obnoxious douchebag Crowley, and tired.
They were also steadfastly attempting to ignore the creeping dread of the flight home that was rolling off the older brother in waves.
Sam knew how difficult it had been for Dean to make this trip. He also knew that Dean had made this trip for Bobby and he had done it willingly. Aside from Sam, Bobby was the only person on the planet that could compel the older Winchester to haul his reluctant ass onto a plane, and Sam knew that, although Dean would never begrudge Bobby a favour, however distasteful, he and his palpitations would be counting the seconds until the plane touched down on American soil.
He was jolted out of his musings by the tinny tinkle of his cellphone and fumbled clumsily in his pocket for it, his fingertips grazing Dean's uncomfortably close butt and earning him a withering glare.
Glancing at the call display, Sam smiled and hit the speaker key.
"Hey, Bobby," he smiled; "twice in one night? You're spoiling us!"
"Alrighty boys," the reply; "how ya doin'?"
Dean jumped into the conversation; "yeah, I haven't chickened out of the flight, if that's what you're askin'."
There was a quiet chuckle on the phone.
"Actually," Bobby continued, "I jus' been talkin' to a hunter contact of mine over on your side of the pond, an' he could use some help. Feel like takin' on a job?"
The brothers glanced at each other.
"What ya got Bobby?" They asked in unison.
"Job's in London; I figured you'd bring him some experience he could use."
There was a brief pause in conversation as Dean swerved abruptly to avoid a pheasant.
"What's the job?" Sam asked as the shocked bird tumbled and fluttered wildly in their slipstream, "how long will …"
Seeing a golden opportunity to put off the flight, Dean jumped in; "tell him we're on our way."
"Thanks boys," Bobby responded; "he'll meet you at Waterloo Station; the guy's called Cyril Toebone and I reckon he'll really appreciate the help,"
"We're on it, Bobby." Dean snatched the phone out of Sam's hand and disconnected before his brother had a chance to overrule him. He tossed the phone onto the dash.
Sam stared at him through the darkness; "so we're going to London now?"
"Yup," Dean replied economically.
"Dude, it's over five hundred miles, that's gonna take all night!"
Dean shrugged, "I've driven further than that for a taco before."
"Not in this crummy little bucket," Sam replied sourly, "I'm all folded up like a damn praying mantis here; much longer like this and I'll never walk again."
"We'll stop off when we find someplace that's got more than heather and hairy orange cows to offer," Dean grunted.
Sam sighed; "you've gotta fly home sometime you know dude, you can't keep puttin' it off forever."
Dean rolled his eyes and floored the clutch, cringing as the little hatchback whined painfully, kangarooing nauseously into fifth gear.
"How long since you last drove stick?" Sam asked, trying to hide his grin.
"How long since you last shut your piehole for more than ten minutes?" Dean responded ingraciously.
The legend goes that a few drops of old Father Thames runs through the veins of every Londoner; and never was a that more true than in the case of Cyril Toebone.
Cyril liked to tell folk he came from a long standing south London family; 'Sarf London bloodstock' was how he described himself. "There were probably a few celtic Toebones runnin' around in old Londinium getting right on those bleedin' Romans' tits," he often liked to add with a chuckle.
Still visibly strong and fit even through his middle age, Cyril bore the unmistakeable hallmark of an ex-heavyweight boxer; the thick, corded neck and barrel chest were a dead giveaway, the slightly flattened broken nose and the scar which all but obliterated his left eyebrow confirmed it.
Which was odd really, because the man had never stepped into a ring in his life; any signs of damage or wear and tear on his stocky frame had found their way there via a very different source.
Currently sitting in his black cab parked on the rank beside Waterloo Station, Cyril stared out through the fine drizzle which softened the city skyline around him, tapping his finger to the melodic strains of Cliff Richard and the Shadows.
Six fares this morning, had seen him busy but not exceptionally so. He might have had seven fares if the bleedin' council hadn't seen fit to dig up a lump of the South Circular and got him stuck in traffic for nearly an hour. Damn the pencil pushers and their poxy Highways Department budgets; not like they ever spend it on anything soddin' useful.
He wasn't sure whether to call it a day; he was supposed to be meeting these two blokes that his mate Bobby had talked about; experts in their field apparently.
Well, they hadn't sounded much like experts in anything when they had called him at 5.30 this morning, stood in the pissin' rain on the hard shoulder of the motorway with an empty tank after three complete and disorientated circumnavigations of Birmingham.
Mind you, Cyril reflected he couldn't really hold that against them. He had no idea who had dreamed up that unfathomable knot of motorways that cluttered up the heart of England. All he knew was that the majority of them had been designed and built in the sixties - the bloke could have been smokin' anything.
They'd be with him a couple of hours later than they thought. That deep-voiced one, the older one by the sounds of it, had sounded well pissed-off; and definitely not impressed by the Highways Department recovery service. What was a 'douche-bag' anyway? Cyril made a mental note to get on his computer later and go on that goggle thing to look it up.
Bugger it; old Singer always seemed to know what he was talking about, and had never let Cyril down before. Cyril had a lot of respect for Bobby, the two men had collaborated via phone, post and latterly (reluctantly too in Cyril's case) by the wonders of technology on several jobs, most notably that shifter back in 1994 who had run Cyril ragged all the way from Watford down to the south coast, and then shifted into a rat, hopped onto a liner and ended up in New York a week later, the saucy sod.
Cyril hoped Bobby was right about this pair.
It was well past lunchtime when the poor little overworked hatchback spluttered to a crooked, illegally-parked halt beside the great Victorian edifice of Waterloo station and it's two exhausted, starving, traumatised and practically crippled occupants stumbled out into the grey, damp London landscape.
"I am never - I mean, NEVER - doin' that again," snarled Dean, trying to rub some life back into his numb knees at the same time as trying to stamp some feeling back into his feet; "I thought the freakin' Romans were supposed to build roads in straight lines?"
"Sam bent into a deep stretch, and was somewhat disturbed when the crackling and popping of his back drowned out the distant rumble of diesel engines.
"Don' think the Romans built the freeways, dude," Sam sighed, still trying to work the kinks out of his neck.
Dean shivered and sullenly wrapped his arms around himself as the wind whipping through the tunnel-like cab rank swirled up and under his jacket. He glanced out at threatening gunmetal-grey clouds whirling around his head.
"Jeez Sam, doesn't the sun ever shine in this freakin' country?"
Sam threaded cold fingers through hair whipped into a frenzy by the wind and shrugged miserably.
"You friends of Bobby Singer?"
The brothers spun round to see the stocky figure of Cyril Toebone standing before them, the wispy remnants of his silver hair dancing along with Sam's in the damp breeze.
"Depends, are you?" asked Dean curtly.
Cyril reached up and yanked up his jacket sleeve revealing a familiar tattoo on his forearm.
The brothers both relaxed. "Hey Cyril," they nodded amiably; "yeah, we're friends of Bobby." Sam smiled, "I'm Sam, this is my brother, Dean," he gestured behind him to where Dean stood, stooped against the misty drizzle, using him as a windbreak.
Cyril extended a hand; "pleased to meet ya; c'mon let's get some grub, you must be bleedin' starvin' after that trip."
The Winchesters didn't need asking twice. Abandoning their little hatchback without a backward glance, they followed Cyril to his cab.
"This is my girl," he announced proudly to his two bemused companions, patting the curves of her gleaming bonnet; "me an' Myrtle here, we've been together over thirty years," he announced proudly; "we got some secrets ain't we, darlin'." He leaned towards the Winchesters, "only, don't tell the old trouble an' strife, eh?" He roared with laughter at his own joke and slapped the brothers aching backs, eliciting a pained splutter as Dean almost swallowed his tongue under the sudden assault.
Clambering into the cab, the Winchesters sunk back into her deep padded seats, blissfully unaware of the hunter's arsenal secreted beneath it, as Cyril pulled away. They watched the depressing grey hulk of Waterloo recede into the misty distance.
"So, got yerselves a bit lost did ya?" Cyril grinned into the rear-view mirror to his two passengers.
Sam could see the petulant frustration still simmering behind Deans dangerously narrowed eyes and grabbed his brother's right hand before the middle finger made an appearance. He answered on behalf of both of them.
"Yes sir, we've never been to England before."
"Well you wouldn't be the first," Cyril responded sympathetically, "there's a reason why they call that bit of road 'Spaghetti Junction'," he smiled; "well, that's the polite name anyway!"
The Winchesters watched London's bustling streets sweep by as Myrtle took a left past the venerable Old Vic theatre, it's high-brow posters advertising a play neither brother had ever heard of, and threaded her way effortlessly through the meandering traffic down past the Old Vic's modern relation, the Young Vic, showing some equally obscure production.
They were so lost in their fascination of their unfamiliar surroundings, it was a few moments before they realised that Myrtle had rolled to a halt in a narrow cobbled alley.
Climbing out of the car they looked up at the building before them. It was a tall brick building, it's curved frontage looking out on a windswept corner of two roads; one wide, festooned with lamp-posts and traffic lights and humming with traffic, the other little more than a lane, barely wide enough to accommodate the cab they had just emerged from.
The traditional-looking bottle-green and gold sign above their heads proclaimed that they were standing beside a pub called 'The Bridge House'.
"Here it is lads; my home an' your home for as long as you need."
Cyril led them into a dimly lit bar, populated only by two rough looking men, each sitting alone, hugging a pint jug and perusing a pile of local newspapers.
Glancing firstly at their two co-patrons who steadfastly ignored them and then at each other, the same thought came to both brothers at the same time.
This was a hunters' rest.
Their attention was immediately captured by the tall, blonde woman who stood leaning casually on the bar, grappling with the crossword in a well-thumbed copy of the South London Press.
The wrong side of fifty they guessed, she was slim and wiry, bearing the haggard, care-worn look beholden of a hunter's loved-one. But beneath the deeply lined face, and the streaks of grey at her temples, both Winchesters could see the unmistakeable stamp of the beauty she once had been.
She looked up, and twenty years dropped off her face when she saw Cyril; a further ten years melted away when she turned to look at the two tall and mysterious strangers in front of her.
Her smile was electric.
Cyril stepped behind the bar and grinned proudly, wrapping an arm around the woman's waist, pulling her into a deep and genuinely loving kiss; "lads, this is my beautiful Missus, Josie; the love of my life," he leaned toward the boys; "only don't tell Myrtle!"
Josie rolled her eyes, "oh honestly, him an' that bleedin' car;" she winked at the shyly smiling strangers, and squirmed free of her devoted husband's grip, stepping round the bar to welcome her visitors.
"Well now, what a lucky lady I am to have to have two gorgeous, handsome cowboys stayin' with me for a few days;" she nodded towards Cyril with a wicked grin, "so much nicer than lookin' at his ugly boat race!"
Dean stepped forward and, despite his overwhelming fatigue, switched on his ladykiller grin; "good to meet you ma'am," he announced, extending a hand;" I'm Dean, this is my brother Sam, thank you for having us."
Her face lit up in delight; "oh, Cyril, they're so polite!"
She cupped Dean's face between long slender fingers adorned with chipped burgundy nail polish; "oh darlin' you're very welcome," she chucked him playfully under the chin as if she were addressing a five-year old, and turned to Sam, reaching up to playfully pinch his cheek; "you both are, now you both gotta have a rest, put your feet up;" the bemused hunters felt slim arms slipping around their waists and firmly guiding them to a booth in the corner.
"Here we are," she smiled up at the two tall figures either side of her and neither brother noticed the naughty twinkle in her eye as her hands slipped south, each taking the opportunity to tweak the denim clad butt beneath it.
"WOAH!" The Winchesters jerked, their combined voices rising to an embarrasingly high pitch.
"I'm sorry, but if you're gonna come in here wavin' those delicious little arses at me, you can't blame an old bird for tryin'!"
Dean grinned as he slipped into the booth opposite Sam; "I can see I'm gonna have to keep my eye on you," he growled menacingly at her, a lop-sided smirk playing across his face.
She patted his shoulder and turned to her husband who was watching the exchange with amused resignation; "Cyril; talkin' of arses, shift yours and get these poor boys something to drink;" she turned back to the boys, "look at 'em, bless their 'arts, they're gaspin' for a cuppa."
Dean smiled up at her, having absolutely no idea what a 'cuppa' was and winked; "good idea, it's hard work bein' so irresistable all the time."
Sam grinned at Dean, shaking his head; it was hard to imagine that this was the same person who wanted to murder the world after their nighmare journey this morning. He guessed it must be nice to be able to be transported into joy by nothing more ambitious than a bit of female attention and the promise of something edible.
"thank you ma'am," he turned and assaulted Josie with his softest puppy-dog eyes, deluxe version, complete with dimples; yeah, suck it up Dean, two can play at that game!
"But please don't go to too much trouble for us," he added.
Josie loomed over them, hands on her slim hips; "now then, it's no trouble at all and we'll have no more of that ma'am stuff;" she scolded playfully, ruffling Sam's already unruly hair; "I'm Josie, you got it?"
The brothers nodded up at her, "Josie, got it," they confirmed in stereo.
The words had barely left their lips as Cyril approached and placed two steaming mugs on the table.
"'Ere y'are," he smiled; "good strong cup of tea, jus' what a man needs after a long journey eh?"
Although neither brother was a regular tea drinker, on this occasion that didn't matter. They picked up the steaming mugs and took a cautious sip of the scalding liquid, both melting back into the padded leather seats and letting out a sigh of bliss at the comforting warmth.
"So," Cyril began, "wanna talk business?"
"CYRIL MONTGOMERY TOEBONE!"
Three pairs of eyes swivelled in alarm toward Josie's raised voice.
"Don't you dare," she snapped, her dark brown eyes flashing dangerously in her quaking husband's direction; "these poor boys are cold, they're hungry and they're tired," she pointed to the brothers who both tried to shrink into the shadows of the booth,whilst at the same time both reluctantly agreeing she was absolutely correct on all three counts; "and they are not lifting a finger until they've freshened up, had a rest and got some good hot food down their necks."
Cyril had the good grace to hang his head, and glanced up at his bemused visitors with a grin; "what? I ain't arguing' with it," he chuckled, "I ain't that brave!"