There was a strange, silver car sitting at the curb in front of Jenny's house when she came home. Her heart lurched into her throat with worry immediately. Jenny trusted Sari to look after Ritchie, she really did, but it had only been a week since she'd cancelled the sitter. She was still having a hard time relaxing completely at the thought of her two babies home alone.
She parked her car as fast as she could, grabbed her purse, and jogged to the front door. She fumbled with her keys, her hands shaking slightly, and when the lock finally clicked and the door opened, she stumbled inside hastily. There were faint sounds of talking coming from the kitchen, deep and definitely male, and she froze. What if it was someone out to hurt her and the kids? What if they had already hurt them?
“Mom!” Sari came running up to her with an excited look on her face. Nothing too bad, if Sari was grinning like she was. Jenny started to relax, marginally.
“Mom, we have visitors!”
Sari grabbed her hand and started dragging her towards the kitchen, but Jenny dug her heels in and stopped her daughter. “Wait, Sari, wait. What visitors?”
Sari turned and gave her an epic eye roll. Jenny barely managed to hide the smirk that tugged at the corners of her mouth. Her daughter was the epitome of a teenager; recalcitrant, impatient and way too confident for her fourteen years. And obviously everything Jenny did was lame or stupid. Like worrying over strange men sitting in her kitchen when Sari had already deemed them harmless. They really needed to talk about trusting strangers, soon.
But then Sari’s face turned serious. “Remember those guys that saved us from the fire in my bedroom?”
Sari couldn’t have done a better job of trying to give her a heart attack. A surge of panic coursed through her, and before she knew it, Jenny had stormed into the kitchen and was staring down Sam and Dean Winchester. “What is it? Missouri said the house was clear, nothing’s happened since, so what is it? Why are you here?”
It was Dean who stood up and put a hand on her shoulder, but despite his lips moving, she couldn’t hear anything over the sound of her blood roaring through her ears. She was vaguely aware of more hands on her shoulders and arms, guiding her to a chair opposite Sam and Dean, making her sit down, but her mind was going a hundred miles a minute and every bad, horrifying, terrible thing that could possibly be wrong with their house--again--was playing in IMAX 3D in front of her eyes. Ghosts, demons, poltergeists, Lucifer himself; after what had happened all those years ago--eight to be exact--she knew that the dark was a thing to fear, and fear it she did. She’d never tell her kids, but she slept with a nightlight and a small gun under her pillow.
“Jenny? Jenny, calm down, please. Nothing is wrong, Jenny. Nothing is wrong.”
After what seemed like an eternity, Dean’s voice penetrated the fog of her noisy thoughts, pulling her away from her nightmares and back into her kitchen. Sari and Ritchie were looking at her oddly, and Dean had clasped his hands around hers, and was smiling softly. She gasped when her eyes landed on Sam, her own terrifying worries completely forgotten.
Sam looked like death warmed over. Every motherly instinct she had screamed at her to gather him up, put him to bed, pile up the blankets and make him eat chicken soup and drink orange juice when he woke up, until he was better. He looked like he’d been through hell and back, twice, before being tortured and starved for years. His skin was pale, his eyes were hollow and sad--bags under them so dark they looked like bruises. He was completely hunched in on himself, as if he was trying to disappear. He was staring at the tabletop, seemingly unaware of whatever was going on around him. Every few seconds, he would close his eyes slowly, as if he was in pain, before fixing his eyes on the same spot on the table again. She could hear Sam's breath rasping in his chest from the other side of the table, as she turned her shocked eyes back to his brother. “Dean?”
Dean smiled, but it never reached his eyes. “Hi. I’m sorry to surprise you like this, I didn’t mean to scare you.” His voice was soft, raspy, as if he hadn’t used it in a while.
Jenny took a deep, steadying breath and looked at Dean properly. That was when she realized he wasn’t all that much better off than Sam. He had the same dark bruises around his eyes, the same thin, pale cheeks and empty eyes. Dean’s entire demeanour screamed exhaustion, his shoulders slumped, his back hunched, and his eyebrows in a permanent frown. She had to fight the urge to ask if they had been taking care of themselves; clearly they hadn’t, but she wasn’t so sure it was by their own accord.
Her voice shook when she finally found it again. “It’s--It’s okay. I’m okay. You just--startled me.”
Dean nodded, let go of her hands, and sat back with a sad, apologetic look on his face. “Sorry.” His freckles stood out darkly against the paleness of his skin, and she felt another wave of worry go through her, this time for the men sitting at her kitchen table, and not her own kids. She couldn’t ignore the urge to offer them some sustenance. “Did Sari offer you anything to drink or eat yet?”
Sari protested, “Hey!”, and Jenny shot her daughter a reassuring smile. She had taught her kids to always offer guests something to drink, at least, but this was an exceptional situation. Even though Ritchie didn’t remember who they were and what they had done for them, Sari did and Jenny knew that, despite her sullen teenager exterior now, Sari would be having a few nightmares just from being reminded of it all.
Dean shook his head, but shot a longing look at Sam, and Jenny knew exactly what it meant. I wish he would eat something. Sam was thin, too thin. She remembered how protective Dean had been of his brother last time around and could see his concern written all over his face. He wasn’t just worried about Sam, but scared for him. How could he not be when Sam looked like he was mere seconds away from falling off his chair to never get up?
She got up on shaky legs and headed for the refrigerator. An image of little Ritchie locked in it while she screamed at him flashed before her eyes, and she winced before she reined it in. There was pie in the fridge and for lack of something better to do--like ask Dean and Sam what happened or why they were there--she got it out.
“How about some pie?”
A small, choked-off sound came from behind her and she turned quickly enough to see Dean’s stricken face before it closed off. Even Sam was staring at Dean, fully aware now, and a little lost. This Sam was nothing like the Sam she remembered--a caring, sweet, young man with big puppy eyes that had already seen too much trouble, yet he was still optimistic, he had dreams and goals. This Sam though--this Sam was broken, leaning on his big brother, relying on Dean to pull him through whatever it was they were dealing with. There was no more hope in his eyes, and she was willing to bet he hadn’t smiled in a very, very long time. He didn’t care anymore, about anything. Except for Dean.
Dean met Sam’s eyes briefly, before shaking his head as if to rid it of thoughts he didn’t need or want. He smiled at her--a sad, almost childlike smile, and nodded. “I’d love some pie, thanks.”
She nodded back and turned to get a knife out of a drawer to cut the pie with. Sari sidled up next to her. “Can I have a piece up in my room, mom?”
Sari’s eyes were filled with worry and confusion, and Jenny put an arm around her daughter and hugged her to her side briefly. She knew Sari had picked up on the tension and strange atmosphere hanging in the kitchen and didn’t know what to do with it. Jenny handed Sari two pieces of cake on a small plate and placed a kiss on her hair. “I’ll call when it’s time for dinner. Take Ritchie?”
It was as if the kids had sucked all the air out of the room when they left and Jenny knew she had to say something, anything, to try and tilt her world back on its axis, at least a little. She silently put a plate with a slice of pie in front of Dean, who smiled up at her and took the proffered fork. Sam had gone back to staring at the table again. She had no idea what to do now, except address the elephant in the room.
She deliberately kept her voice soft. Dean looked like he would break down and scream if she cleared her throat too loudly, and Sam would probably just crumble and wither where he sat. God, but these boys looked like shells of the strong men she had met all those years ago. The last eight years had been anything but kind to them.
“What--What are you doing here? In Lawrence, I mean.”
Dean huffed, a brittle, desperate sound that was followed by a quick shrug of shoulders and silence. It stretched on for so long Jenny opened her mouth to apologize for asking. She was about to offer them a place to stay as long as they needed to, when Dean finally spoke.
“I didn’t know where--I don’t know--" He paused and straightened, meeting her eyes. "We were in the neighbourhood isn’t gonna cut it, is it?”
She smiled at the bad joke, but Dean didn’t. His face was scarily open, naked with emotions, and the most prominent one was guilt.
Dean shrugged again. “I guess I just wanted to--We’re on our way to Missouri. We need some--information. Help.” He glanced at Sam again.
Jenny remembered Missouri fondly, and even though she hadn’t talked to her in years, Missouri had been a good friend, the only one who understood what had happened, after Sam and Dean had saved them. She knew what Missouri did, what she could do, but that didn’t explain why Dean and Sam were now looking for her help. What could she know that they didn’t?
“Is it--is it a ghost thing?”
Dean chuckled humorlessly. “I wish it was. But no. Not a ghost thing. An angels and demons thing.”
“Wait. Actual angels and demons?”
She must have looked shocked, because Dean smiled sadly. “Yeah, sorry. We’re caught in the middle of something--something bad, and now Sam--”
Dean’s eyes shifted to Sam, who was staring at his hands, palms up, on the table. A whole host of emotions slid over Dean’s face, but by the time he met her eyes again, they were gone.
She wasn’t sure if Dean realized everything was so close to the surface, he hadn’t struck her like the guy that wore his feelings on his sleeve.
“Sam’s hurt, and I need help figuring out how to cure him.”
Jenny nodded. She could see Sam was sick. The image of Sam--their hero Sam--sitting at her table likes it was his last stop before--
She didn’t want to think about it too much.
“I guess I just--” Dean sighed deeply, dropping his fork and burying his face in his hands. “I don’t know why we’re here. I’m sorry.”
Whatever was left of her broken heart was bleeding all over her kitchen floor. Dean’s confidence, his strength, his cockiness were all gone. This was a man who had seen too much and was inches away from just giving up. Her mind flashed back to the pictures she had found of them, of their family, not long before they came to her house. The smiling little boy with his proud and happy parents. The brightness of their future evident in every picture.
“What can I do?” she asked. The words were out of her mouth before she realized it, but she meant them. Anything she could do to help, she would do. They had saved her and her kids, now it was her turn to help them.
Dean dropped his hands to the table, and started picking his nails. “Nothing. Nothing. I just--I guess I just wanted to be--you know, here.”
She nodded, but she really didn’t have a clue what to say to that. The last time Dean was here at his childhood home, he seemed uncomfortable, like he didn’t want to be there. There were probably a lot of happy memories in the house, but a few bad ones as well, although she couldn’t think of any that would make a man that reluctant to be in the home they grew up in. Not with family pictures like the ones she'd found anyway. Dean seemed like a headstrong guy, and she couldn’t think of a reason why he'd changed his mind now. Unless it was about Sam.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
Sam looked up at her with a small smile on his face that lifted the cloud of worry and pain slightly. “We’ll survive.”
Dean huffed again, the same broken sound as earlier and glanced at Sam. “I might, but I’m not so sure about you, Sammy.”
Sam grimaced at Dean, something between fake annoyance and real fear, but Dean wouldn’t have it. “No man, I’m serious. We have no clue what the hell is going on with you! It’s been a week and you’re still having those freaky fevers and glowing arms. Cas is nowhere to be found and Kevin has no idea what it is or why it hasn’t stopped. The trials are over. Why hasn’t it stopped?”
There was a pitch of hysteria in Dean’s voice at the end and Jenny marveled again at how different this Dean was from the determined, confident hunter she had met years ago. That Dean had known exactly what to do and how to do it, barking orders at her, Missouri and Sam, and breaking down her front door to save his little brother. This one though, this Dean was lost, breaking down every door in sight, but never the one that would save Sam.
“I don’t know, Dean. I don’t--I don’t know,” Sam stammered.
She could see Sam was holding back, there was something he wasn’t saying, but Dean seemed to understand perfectly well. “Well, I think Missouri can help and since I'm the only one capable of driving right now, that’s where we’re going.”
That reminded her. “Didn’t you have a black car? An old Impala?”
Dean sighed. “I do. She’s--She’s out of commission right now.”
Sam chuckled softly, startling both Dean and Jenny. “Out of commission? The exhaust came off after you just about broke the sound barrier.”
Dean looked offended for a second, but Jenny could see the grin playing around the edges of his mouth. She could feel the same grin tugging at her lips too, grateful for the levity. “Well, excuse me for trying to get you to a safe place as soon as I could," Dean said.
Sam smiled at that, a grateful little smile, before nodding and looking back at his hands. “I know.”
Dean stared at Sam for a few moments, lost in thought. The lighter mood didn’t stay, especially when Dean started talking again, back on topic. “I can’t really explain everything, but we’ve been trying to get every single bad thing that’s out there back to where it belongs.”
“Which is where?”
Dean looked her straight in the eyes when he replied, a grim look on his face that meant business. “Hell.”
It was only Dean’s serious gaze that kept her from laughing out loud, but she couldn’t hold back a small snort of disbelief.
Dean smirked, and for a second she saw a familiar flash of that younger Dean in his face. “I know, it sounds crazy, but we’ve lived it, and when I get Sam all patched up and back to his old self, we’re going to try again.”
“Does that mean it didn’t work?”
Dean shook his head morosely. “No. But I’m not giving up. That’s why we need to see Missouri. She can--I hope she can help.”
Jenny was about to reply to that when Sam groaned softly and jerked his eyes from his hands to Dean. “Dean--”
A flash of panic crossed Dean’s face, mirroring the one that passed over Sam’s, and they were both out of their chairs in a second. Jenny scrambled to her feet too, confused, but Dean was already ushering Sam out the door. “In the car, come on, not here.”
Dean barely spared her a glance as he pushed Sam to the front door and out of the house. Once outside, he wrapped an arm around Sam’s thin shoulders and gripped Sam’s hands with the other. Sam had the sleeves of his hoodie pulled down over his hands, but Jenny could see the fabric lighting up from the inside. Something clicked into place in her head, you’re still having those freaky fevers and glowing arms. She stopped dead in her tracks.
Whatever was happening to these boys, whatever had made them show up on her doorstep today, she couldn’t be a part of it. It was too big, too hard, too much. It almost broke Sam and Dean to the point of no return, and she had Sari and Ritchie to think about. She was left standing halfway down her driveway, watching as Sam doubled in on himself and Dean bundled him into the silver car. Even from where she stood, she could see Sam’s pain etched into his features, his breath coming shallow and fast.
Dean took a deep breath himself before turning back to her. He threw her a small, sad smile.
She couldn’t help but walk up to him and pull him into her arms. He didn’t hug her back at first, stiff and uncomfortable in her embrace, but when she pressed a kiss to his cheek, he almost sagged into her. She smiled to herself. This, she could do. Dean pulled back, not meeting her eyes, a blush on his cheeks. “What was that for?”
“You looked like you needed it.”
Dean nodded and walked back to the car.
She called after him and smiled when he turned. “Give Sam a hug too.”
He returned the smile with a nod. “Thanks.”