Ignorance is Bliss
By: Ridley C. James
“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.” –Maya Angelou
It had been a week since Dean Winchester had started his sentence at the farm. The first few mornings in the unfamiliar bedroom at Sonny’s work camp for wayward boys caused a disorienting sort of panic. Dean found it ironic considering he woke up in strange places more often than not in one run down motel or another. The squeal of tires, slamming of doors from adjacent parking lots, screaming from a quarrel, or other disturbing noises from the surrounding rooms were missing in the quiet. . It was like Pastor Jim's farm, which meant it was simply the fact he woke up alone. One thing Dean had rarely been in his life was alone.
Whatever the cause, by the third day Dean’s anxiety had given way to something more akin to a dull ache of heaviness in his chest, like he’d slept with a boulder on top of him instead of the soft quilts. He would have called it homesickness, but that made as much sense as him being out of sorts over unfamiliar settings. Dean didn’t really have a home, not unless you counted Sam. Dean was trying really hard not to think about Sam.
The workload helped. Sonny expected his ‘guests’ to pitch in, giving them a long list of chores that were to be completed before and after school. The labor was supposed to build character, but an invite to breakfast and dinner hinged on the completion of said tasks. So for Dean, barn duty before the sun was fully up was a twofold win. He could shake off the annoying funk that always set upon him like cold dew, and earn a prize seat for an all he could eat breakfast of bacon, eggs and buttermilk biscuits that vied for a place of honor and prestige with Pastor Jim’s pancakes.
He pushed the heavy wooden door open, not bothering with a light. He let MJ’s soft whinny guide his way into the barn. The horse was bedded in the back in the roomiest stall. She wasn’t a former race horse like Fat Chance and One in a Million, just a sweet little sorrel who seemed to share a similar heart with her thoroughbred cousins for boys and wild apples. She’d been rescued, too. Rumor had it Sonny had taken her in after the sheriff had arrested her owners for growing unlawful crops, hence her full name of Mary Jane.
Dean started for her feed bucket, knowing she should have some oats before he slipped her the apple he’d saved from dinner last night. He knew where the old tractor had been put out to pasture, and easily made his way around the rusted out carcass. The smell of hay and feed had his mind roaming to Pastor Jim’s barn, the many mornings he’d carried out a similar routine at The Guardian’s request. He paid little mind when MJ stomped and snorted, taking it as impatience for her breakfast instead of any warning of impending threat. That was until an arm reached from the darkness wrapping around his throat, a hand covered his mouth.
The grip was tight, unyielding as Dean was dragged deeper into the barn. His mind raced. He cursed himself for being lax and letting his guard down like a rookie. He’d left the knife he’d palmed from the kitchen on his first night under his pillow. Dean scrambled for purchase, but his attacker knew what he was doing, keeping them moving, using momentum and his much larger size to keep Dean off balance until he could drag him into him into the adjoining room to the stable-a nice private place for violence. Once they were through the door, Dean’s assailant let him go, giving him a hard push forward so Dean couldn’t easily lash out in retaliation.
“Deuce, it’s me.”
The voice more than the words halted any thoughts of Dean’s search for a weapon and his counter attack; sent his mind spinning in an entirely different direction. “Damien?”
Dean hit the light switch on the side wall, unable to completely trust his ears or the sensation of familiarity that rushed through him like an electrical current. The crude row of fluorescent lights strung above flickered a few times before buzzing to life, casting his best friend in a sickish yellow glow. The poor lighting made Caleb’s grim face appear fiercer. Dean had a flash of fear that perhaps someone they loved had been hurt. He pushed thoughts of his father and Sam aside and managed a dire look of his own. “What the hell are you doing here, man? What’s wrong?”
“I think that’s my question, Deuce.” His best friend’s response was to step closer to Dean, his eyes searching the teen’s face. “Are you alright?”
Dean brought a hand up and rubbed his neck. “If you’re asking if I can still breathe after you practically crushed my larynx, then yeah, I’m peachy. What’s with the black bag treatment?”
“I thought you might be dead.” Caleb took another step closer, surprising Dean by pulling him into a crushing hug that Dean realized had much more force than the hold he’d been subjected to earlier. “I mean I knew you weren’t dead, I could tell that much, but what the hell were you thinking, Kid?”
At the moment Dean wasn’t quite capable of thinking. The unusual display of affection usually reserved only for life and death situations had him once more off guard and unbalanced. It didn’t help that his face was pressed against the old Carhart jacket Caleb was wearing, the faint smell of gun powder, oil and a scent that spoke of nights spent digging up corpses, torching their remains evoked not only a gag reflex, but amazingly enough caused that heaviness in Dean’s chest to return tenfold. He found himself breathless, his eyes stinging and uncharacteristically willing to let the embrace continue.
Caleb pushed him again, breaking the spell. It was a gentle shove this time. The older hunter maintained his hold on the teen’s shoulders. “Dean, talk to me.”
“I’m good.” Dean finally managed, though the fact his voice broke belied the confidence he was hoping to display. “How did you know I was here?”
“Sammy called me.”
Dean expected as much, but it still hurt when he realized his father had not been the one to plan a rescue mission.
“He said you were fucking lost on some kind of unexpected hunt with me, that Johnny came home without you.” Disbelief and self-recrimination warred for dominance on Caleb’s features. Dean once more wasn’t surprised that Caleb was trying to work out if he in fact was somehow to blame for this current situation.
“Why the hell would he tell him something like that?” Dean hadn’t considered what his father might tell Sam. In fact, he’d done everything possible not to envision what his brother’s twelve year old mind might have come up with when Dean didn’t return that night. He’d hoped his father might try the truth out for size.
“You tell me.” Caleb propped his hands on his hips. “All I know is I got a call from one pissed off kid, asking me why I’d practically kidnapped you for a hunt, and why I hadn’t done my job in watching your back to boot. He basically called Belac a sham before he got all choked up and begged me to bring you back.”
“Shit.” Dean ran both hands through his hair, unsure if his father putting Sam through the wringer was more of Dean’s punishment.
“I guess you’re not surprised that I had no fucking clue what he was talking about, seeing as I hadn’t seen you in weeks, let along ambushed you and forced you to go on an unplanned job with me. Not to mention I hadn’t had a vision that you were in any kind of danger.”
“I can’t believe Dad came up with such a lame ass story.” The truth would have been so much simpler, but John Winchester was about as simple as the String Theory.
“Johnny didn’t bother to even try and spin a fairytale for me when I finally got him to call me back by threatening to go straight to Jim for some answers. He told me that you were fine, and to keep my fucking nose out of it or else.”
“Well we both know how well you follow orders.” Dean folded his arms over his chest and frowned at the older hunter. For maybe the first time he could remember he was a little miffed his best friend didn’t do as The Knight had said.
“Did you miss the part where Sam told me you were missing?” Caleb gave him a shake. “Did you really expect me to be the good soldier and swallow Johnny’s need to know bullshit? Would you?”
“I should have called you.” Caleb let him go and Dean felt a pang of remorse. He hadn’t even considered the idea after the sheriff had talked to John, too shocked that he was being thrown to the wolves by his own father. It was embarrassing and humiliating to have strangers know that he meant nothing, was obviously worthless. Dean couldn’t bear the idea of turning to Mac or Bobby, let along Jim or Caleb. He shrugged when Caleb’s piercing stare continued to stay locked on his guilty face. “I haven’t exactly earned phone privileges yet.”
Caleb gave him a look that told him he recognized a sham of a convenient excuse when he saw one, but didn’t say as much. “Why were you stealing food?”
Dean imagined Caleb hadn’t had to tap into his vast reserves to track down the truth of the matter. After all, tracing a paper trail of public records was not even in the league of what they searched out and found on a regular basis. “We ran out of money. Sam was hungry.”
“And you didn’t think to call me?”
Dean opened his mouth to give a standard reply, but Caleb pointed a finger at him, his eyes narrowing to dangerous slits. “Don’t you dare say it! How many times have Mac and Jim tried to drill it in your thick head that help from family isn’t fucking charity?”
“Do I even need to call pot and kettle on that one, Ass Wipe?” Dean knew for a fact Caleb refused money from his father and grandfather when he was building Tri-Corp.
“Starting a business and starving have nothing to do with the other, Kid. Apple and oranges and you know it.”
When Dean stayed quiet Caleb seemed to realize the fruitlessness of the argument and switched topics. “What happened to your arms? Did one of the officers that arrested you do that, or the ex-con who runs this place? Because I will kill him slowly and painfully and plant him in his own back forty before we blow this shithole.”
Dean looked down at his wrists where the deep bruises from the botched hunt had faded from angry red to that sickish yellow purple discoloration that promised things were getting better even if they looked worse. He figured it was the easier explanation. “Take it easy, Rambo. No humans involved. It was a Rougarou.”
Caleb reached out and took Dean’s hands flipping them over so he could see the marks closer. The sixteen year old could tell by the look of concentration on Caleb’s face that the psychic was seeing much more than physical injury. He imagined his friend picking up on images from the attack, watching the scene like a coach ejected from the big game might view Tuesday morning film footage from Monday night’s disaster.
“The thing wasn’t morphed fully,” Dean tried to explain, wanting to give perspective to what he was sure looked like a complete mismatched slaughter. “Even in human form the bastard outweighed me by sixty or so and stood a foot taller than me.”
Dean was positive Caleb could see that for himself as his face reddened, or maybe he was just catching flashes of how the thing had gotten the drop on the younger hunter, tossed Dean against a tree.
“It was on top of me before I could get my breath or my gun.” The thing had pinned him to the freezing forest floor. Dean was convinced it intended on having his jugular and other internal organs for a snack when John shot it. Dean forced a laugh, hoping to erase the flash of anger in Caleb’s gold gaze now fixed in the present, precisely on Dean.
“I think Dad’s aim was a little off considering the maniac had me spread eagle and straddled faster than one of your Saturday night Red Caboose hookups. Good thing for me the graze from the silver bullet put the thing on the run.”
“You only hunt these bastards in pairs.” Caleb released his hands with a growl. “John knows better than to split up.”
Dean stamped down his first instinct to defend his father, good old Dad’s recent betrayal and wish for his son to ‘rot in jail’ making it a little easier. “We both know how well The Knight follows protocol.”
Caleb snorted. “We all have our faults, but John’s is going to get somebody killed, namely you.”
Dean’s heart sped up. He feared Caleb might actually hear its fear-filled staccato. His face must have blanched. He might have swayed because suddenly Caleb was grabbing his arms again, guiding him to a stack of hay along the wall. “Damn, Deuce. I didn’t mean that.”
Dean took a seat on the bale, giving a slight shake of his head. Caleb had meant what he said, and they both knew it. “I thought I was dead this time, Dude.”
It was Caleb’s time to try for a grin. “We both know that thing would have taken one bite of you and let go. Winchester is bound to taste like something Bobby scraped up off the side of the road and boiled in three day old beer and lard.”
“You know that thing they say about your life flashing before your eyes.” Dean stayed the course Caleb had unwittingly set. “It’s true, only I didn’t see the past. I saw all the things I haven’t done, all the things I’d never get a chance to do.”
“Damien, I don’t want to die.” There it was. The cold hard truth. Dean Winchester had suddenly, unexpectedly, brutally been made aware of his mortality.
“I think that goes for most of us, Kiddo. Survival is pretty much ingrained.” Caleb took a seat on the bale of hay beside him, their shoulders brushing. He met Dean’s gaze, understanding and more pity than Dean could stand even from his best friend brightening his gold eyes. “Is this like that first poltergeist gig? The time you came to Auburn?”
Dean’s initial instinct was to be insulted, to scoff at the comparison. He felt like protesting. “I didn’t run away or hitch a ride on a Greyhound. I was arrested and brought here in handcuffs in a back of a squad car.”
“So you’re telling me highly trained SWAT escorted you here? That there is some kind of heavy duty security measures I missed when I waltzed right onto the property? Invisible guard dogs, perhaps? Barbed wire around your room? A Kracken chained in the root cellar? Are you wearing some kind of device that delivers an electric charge to your balls if you go more than fifty yards beyond the front door? Because I can’t think of much else that would keep you from getting the hell out of here, getting back to Sam.”
“Shut up, Dick Head,” Dean growled, getting his best friend’s point. Dean could have made a break for it days ago. Hell, he could have bolted that first night after he got lucky with that swing at the deputy if he’d had a mind to do so. Something stopped him from trying, and it sure as well wasn’t the fact he was as hungry as Sonny has suggested, not for food anyway. Dean was desperate for something different. Anything than what he’d known for the past twelve years.
“I’ve noticed Johnny’s stepped up your hunting. Since that first hard kill last year, he’s pretty much put you to work full time. Ring or no ring, he seems to think his timetable is smarter than Jim’s, and that your training period is up. You’ve been on active duty for a while now.”
Dean met the older hunter’s gaze, not quite sure if Caleb was reading him or just knew him too damn well. “You were doing the same at my age.”
“On the weekend, yeah, over spring break, maybe.” Caleb looked down at his hands, twisted the silver band around his hand. “Mac made sure Johnny kept my training in check. You don’t have that kind of buffer.”
“Maybe what you’re saying has some truth to it, but no matter what you think I didn’t plan on getting caught.” Dean didn’t realize it at the time, but maybe he did see the arrest as some kind of blessing in disguise. He was just so tired. Tired of being his dad’s hunting partner, tired of being Sam’s surrogate parent, and tired of being so damn tired all the time.
“But you couldn’t help to see the possibility when you did.”
“The possibility for what, dude? Hard time?”
“Maybe when your life is already hard as hell, some time locked away from the world looks like a vacation.”
“A vacation? Dean snorted. Something twisted deep in his gut. “I guess that’s one way to spin it. Pastor Jim is always preaching at us to look for the light in the darkest situations.”
Quietness settled in around them as they both seemed to consider Pastor Jim’s wisdom. When Caleb finally broke the stillness his voice was gentle, almost reverent. “You really want to stay here, Deuce?”
“It’s not so bad.”
Caleb looked hurt as if Dean choosing to stay out his sentence was a different choice all together. “For how long?”
“Not forever, Man.” Dean forced another grin, realizing the thoughts probably running through his best friend’s head. Caleb might not always like their situation, but he liked for things to stay constant. Dean was usually of a like mind, viewing the family they had as a far greater reward than the consequences of the lives they lived. But for once he wanted to try something different, something just for him. Even if it meant scaring Damien, worrying Sam. “Two months, maybe shorter for good behavior or I get completely sick of this place first.”
“You could come with me,” Caleb tried one more tactic, a hint of desperation that was so foreign Dean almost considered the idea. “Johnny would never have to be the wiser. I’d even come up with some chores for you to do if that would ease your conscience.”
“Dude, if it were as simple as me crashing with you for a while, I’d have hightailed it to Jim’s farm and skipped the whole juvenile record.” Dean had learned a long time ago that there were things Caleb couldn’t fix and asking for shelter in the storm that was John Winchester would only put his best friend in an impossible situation in which someone was bound to get hurt, namely Caleb.
“Jim doesn’t need to know.” Dean hardened his voice, waited until his best friend met his gaze. “Neither does Mac or Bobby.”
Dean sighed. “Make sure Sammy knows I’m okay. That I’ll be back when I can.”
“You know I’d be the first to say some time on your own is a good thing, Dude, but willingly leaving Sam…that’s just not like you. Are you sure that Rougarou didn’t shake something loose? Give you a concussion?”
“It’s not like I’m abandoning him. He has Dad.” Dean realized how wrong that sounded even before the disbelief registered in Caleb’s eyes. “He has you-best nanny around.”
Caleb lifted a brow. “You realize what you’re asking?”
“You mean checking in on my kid brother, making sure he’s getting something to eat besides peanut butter sandwiches and cold ravioli is above and beyond Belac’s line of duty? What happened to ‘I’d do anything for you, Deuce?’”
“I meant the whole my leaving my kid brother unprotected.”
“If I can trust Sam with Dad, you should have no problem leaving me with Sonny, prison record or not. He’s good people.”
Caleb continued to stare at him for a long moment, obviously surprised by the turn of events and torn as to what to do now that his rescue plan had been blown out of the water. Dean wasn’t sure his friend would agree. “Good people or not, I’m not going anywhere until I meet this reformed saint.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “By meet you mean turn him inside out, scan his brain for any nefarious thoughts and dishonorable intentions?”
“If the dude has nothing to hide…”
“Fine,” Dean conceded, standing. “I might be able to score you an invite to breakfast if you help me finish my ‘character building activities.’”
“Something better than bread and water I hope?”
Dean quirked a brow. “Something better than Pastor Jim’s pancakes.”
“What?” Caleb feigned disbelief. “I didn’t know such a thing existed.”
“Neither did I, man. Neither did I.” Dean felt the good humor they’d manage start to ebb. He punched Caleb hard on the shoulder before either of them could think too long on the simple and dangerous truth of that statement, one that had really nothing to do with buttermilk biscuits versus chocolate chip pancakes. “Sonny even gave me a new nickname-D’dawg.”
“Oh no.” Caleb’s face of horror was priceless. Dean didn’t even have to try and muster a laugh as the older hunter stood, shaking his head. “No way. Don’t even speak it.”
“I kind of like the ring of it.” Dean smirked. “D’dawg. A whole other dimension to Dean Winchester. A side we never knew.”
Caleb tossed an arm over Dean’s shoulder, jerking him in for a quick and annoying head rub that somehow morphed into a sideways hug that had the heaviness returning to Dean’s chest. “I don’t care how much time you spend in ‘the joint’, you’re always going to be Deuce to me.”
Dean glanced up, giving a sharp nod. He wasn’t sure what the next couple of months might bring, what other new things he might discover, but he was more positive than ever that even though a guy might luck out on an unconventional vacation away from reality, he could never truly escape who or what he was in his heart. In fact, Dean was pretty sure he didn’t want to.
“Don’t worry Damien, Deuce works for me.”