Prologue to In Victus
By: Ridley C. James
Author's note: thanks to
Tara for her read through and to Lee and Lee’s grandfather;
they were so kind to share a wealth of information about Marine
sub-culture. Anything I messed up was completely my own
misunderstanding. As always, this piece is better because of Tidia. I
know some other talented authors have written this first meeting
between Mackland, Caleb and the Winchesters. I haven't read them in
part because I knew I would eventually get around to penning my own
version, but I tip my hat to you and this story in no way is meant to
lesson what others have written before me.
For things that don't exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings - there are no such things.
There are only middles.- Robert Frost
New York, April 2008
Mackland Ames was a man familiar with death. From his first breath, death had taken his hand, walked slightly in his shadow as he maneuvered throughout life. His mother’s medical tragedy shaped the man he was to become. Medicine and surgery were not so much a passionate career choice as a life’s mission.
He wished he could say it was an honorable quest, but in truth it was an unholy war. Mackland challenged death with each procedure of his career, was obsessive in his desire to overcome the thief that came without warning. Each life he saved was the gold medal, and when he won round after round, collecting more prizes than any of his colleagues combined Mackland became cocky. Ames’s were never conquered. Yet now as Mac gently returned the phone to its cradle, he was never a man more defeated.
He pressed the intercom button on his desk. “Naomi, could you come in here, please?”
Mackland wasn’t surprised when his assistant quickly appeared, her kind face full of worry and apprehension. He sounded tired and on edge, maybe even afraid.
The doctor took a deep breath to steady himself. Naomi crossed the plush carpeted floor, still holding the stack of files the doctor knew she had been cross-referencing per their meeting earlier that morning. He avoided her worried gaze. “I need for you to cancel my appointments today…for the rest of the week.”
There shouldn’t have been many. Mackland had been keeping his client schedule light as the weeks dwindled to Dean’s deadline. Scholar business took precedence, the role of favorite uncle his most important duty. The few appointments he had maintained were a neurosurgical consult, two with the FBI, and a visit to a family desperate for clues on their runaway child. They would have to wait. He could not let John’s son die.
“Has something happened?”
Mackland unclenched his fists; spread them flat on his mahogany desk. He briefly let his eyes rest on a silver framed photograph. It showed himself, Pastor Jim, John and the three boys on their one and only ‘family’ fishing trip, Triad and future Triad. The vacation had mostly been a disaster-the story of their life together. The snapshot Bobby had taken in the beginning, all six of them happy and together was one of his favorites. It stood between the one of Caleb at his college graduation, and an old black and white wedding photo of his mother and father.
Mackland pushed away from the desk, standing to gather his things. “A family crisis, I’m afraid.”
Naomi stepped further into the room, a hand resting at the nape of her neck. “Not Caleb, I hope?”
“No. Not directly. But I will be flying home.” When had Jim’s farm become his home? He had grown up in Manhattan. New York should have been his home or perhaps Washington DC where his father, Cullen, spent most of his time.
“You’ll need me to book a flight to Louisville?”
Mackland appreciated that Naomi had been with him long enough to know he meant Kentucky. “Yes, and I’ll want to take a chopper to the airport.” It would save him from the bottleneck traffic at the Midtown tunnel as well as the assured back up along the Long Island Expressway.
“At 34th street?”
“Yes.” Mackland shoved folders and texts into his briefcase. “Check the availability of flights from Louisville to Norfolk, Virginia also. E-mail me the possible itineraries.” Mackland pulled his cell from its charger. “I think you should probably contact Bradley.”
He heard the slight intake of breath at the mention of her son. “He’s not…”
“He’s fine, but I don’t believe he’ll be coming home this weekend to visit you and Fletcher.”
Naomi understood there were things Mackland could not discuss with her, even if her son was loosely associated with The Brotherhood. Bradley understood the importance of discretion. “If you can’t manage a flight within the next two hours, call my father and secure the private jet, but only as a last resort.” Cullen was not as understanding of Mackland’s furtive behavior.
“Of course.” She hesitated at the door. “Do you know when you’ll return?”
Mackland hesitated, his eyes going to his desk calendar. Samuel’s birthday was highlighted. Ironic it was now imprinted in his mind as Dean’s last day. “Sometime in May.” Either way Mackland would eventually return. He would carry on.
Mackland looked up. “I trust you can hold down the fort. You have Carolyn’s number if you are unable to reach me through our usual channels.”
“Don’t worry about anything here.” She started to go, but stopped. “Family is truly the most important thing. You’ve taught me that.”
He swallowed; his throat suddenly threatening to close. Mackland had needed to learn that lesson himself not so many years ago. It was one he couldn’t forget. “Yes it is.”
Flying over the city was usually one of his favorite things, an indulgence he now used sparingly. Leaning back in his seat, watching the scenery pass by from his bird’s eye view, he felt removed- untouchable. Mackland recalled the first time he brought his then thirteen-year-old foster son to the airport by helicopter. Jim Murphy had requested his immediate presence at the farm. Mackland was in awe of The Guardian, still unsure of his place in The Brotherhood and even more uncertain of his newly appointed position as The Scholar. He could never have conceived the repercussions of that last minute flight to Louisville. Caleb, who had never flown in an airplane, had been mesmerized by the adventure of it all.
Mackland smiled to himself, remembering the boy’s low whistle, the sparkle in his gold eyes as he proclaimed ‘this is what it means to be rich’. Mackland had agreed, looking forward to showing the child the finer things in life. Only later would Mackland realize it would be Caleb who would introduce him to a world of better things, and only after meeting John Winchester would Mackland begin to understand what it truly meant to be rich.
New Haven, Kentucky, May 1985
“Jim, I’m not sure I’m the best person for this job.”
“You’re The Scholar, Mackland.”
Mackland shifted under Jim Murphy’s blue gaze. He only recently accepted the role and despite all his thorough investigations and hastened tutelage from the now retired Scholar, was feeling a little overwhelmed at the surprise duties that kept coming up. “But isn’t recruiting more your role or perhaps The Knight…”
The pastor waved away the suggestion. “Daniel is taking some time to rethink his actions as of late. I don’t believe he is in an appropriate place to be meeting perspective members. Do you, Dr. Ames?”
Mackland had not been practicing psychiatry very long, but Daniel Elkins was easily diagnosed as unstable. His failure to purge Caleb from existence had sent him spiraling. He was not a man Mackland would have chosen for any duty, especially in his current state. “Couldn’t Missouri bring him here? I mean, she was the first to talk with him. She made first contact with me.”
Jim moved towards the oven, opening the door. The smell of warm cinnamon filled the room. “Missouri suggested you for the job. She thought it was a golden opportunity for you to earn your keep.”
“The last time I checked The Brotherhood was not depositing any bank roll into my account.” Mackland ran a finger over his eyebrow. Sometimes he wondered how his life had drifted so far off course. “And Missouri Mosley hates me.”
Jim slid the apple pie onto the table, removing the yellow daisy potholders from his hands. “You haven’t been the easiest student.”
Missouri Mosley was a psychic and had taught Mackland more about his unexpected abilities than any team of highly paid and well skilled neurosurgeons or his own tireless research efforts. She had bolstered his own knowledge and helped him garner more control, pushing boundaries farther than he ever imagined he could go, but the woman was impossible. “Is this some form of punishment?”
Jim returned to the counter, retrieving two mugs and the coffee pot. “No. This is an excellent opportunity for growth.”
“An opportunity? Then why not give it to Robert. I believe he could use some expansion, especially in the social arena.”
“Bobby?” Jim asked.
“Yes, the junkman.” From what Mackland knew of Bobby Singer he found him far better suited to retrieve a mechanic heralding from Kansas. “Perhaps he and this Winchester fellow would have more in common.”
“Bobby lacks the finesse I believe this situation calls for.” Jim moved to the refrigerator, retrieving a carton of milk, which he placed at the empty seat across from Mackland. “John Winchester has two boys of his own.”
Mackland snorted at the insinuation. “Caleb’s only been living with me for a few months.” He knew Jim wanted to believe there was a chance for far more. “We’re not even sure the arrangement is permanent. I sincerely doubt I can count myself in the parenting brigade.” Having Caleb around had stirred a feeling Mackland could only describe as a paternal instinct. He wanted to believe he was capable of being a good father, the right person to fill the void in the child’s life, but wasn’t convinced of his aptitude as of yet.
Jim took the seat next to Mackland. “One of the reasons Missouri thought of you was because of the boys, the eldest in particular.”
“And why is that?”
The pastor scooted the steaming coffee pot closer to him. “It seems that the child witnessed what happened to his mother, and has not been the same since.”
“I’ve not had a lot of experience working with children.” The children Mackland worked with now were usually far beyond his help. His interest in psychiatry was more of an extension of his telepathic abilities. Psychiatry was an excellent platform for his more pressing desires to study the paranormal. “From what you’ve told me, it would be a miracle if he wasn’t suffering from some form of post trauma.”
Jim filled Mac’s coffee cup. “Why Doctor Ames, did I hear the word miracle?”
Mackland took the offered drink with a frown. “I used it in the loosest sense. Medicine has no room for such terminology, but apparently this new career that has been thrust upon me makes frequent use of vague concepts such as hope and faith.”
“I’m impressed by your flexibility.” Jim grinned devilishly, cutting into the pie. “The Scholar needs to be well-versed in the art of diplomacy. This is an opportunity to expand your people skills and spend some time with Caleb. Your first road trip as a family.”
“I don’t have any people skills. That’s why I became a surgeon instead of going into private practice.” Mackland was sure he would not have changed paths if not for his collision with a drunk driver.
“Things change. People change.” Jim slipped a piece of pie onto Mackland’s plate. “You are no longer that person. I have great confidence in your capacity for dealing with people. Think of all those lives you’ve touched since coming into your gift.”
Mackland was still unused to seeing his unexpected abilities as a gift. Learning to control them had made it easier, but there were days when he longed to be normal again.
They both turned as the kitchen door opened and a breathless Caleb Reaves and Atticus Finch entered the room. “Not all changes are for the worst.” Jim patted his shoulder. “You might surprise yourself by the depths of connection of which you are capable.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Mackland grumbled, picking up his fork. “I haven’t won any accolades yet.” Although confident before his accident, Mackland would never have claimed to be successful in relations with others. He prided himself on maintaining an elite and select set of acquaintances. All of whom had seemingly disappeared after his long stay in the hospital and subsequent battle to regain his stature.
“How was the walk, my boy?” Jim asked.
Mackland watched the teen amble towards the table, his wary gaze sweeping over them before taking a seat. “We saw the horses.” He shrugged. “Atticus chased a squirrel.”
“Ah yes, Mr. Finch’s ongoing quest to capture a gray tail.” Jim picked up the largest slice of pie and placed it before the boy. “I’m not quite sure what he’ll do when and if he ever catches one.”
“I ate squirrel brains once,” Caleb said.
“On purpose?” Mackland looked at the teen, his face verging on appalled. “They’re rodents.”
Caleb rolled his eyes, cutting his gaze to Jim. “And he thinks he’s been around.”
Jim laughed loudly, filling Caleb’s glass with milk. “Being extremely worldly, I’m sure Mackland has on occasion gorged himself with animal intestines, a variety of fungi, and fish bait.”
Caleb took a long drink, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I bet Atticus wouldn’t eat caviar.”
The Retriever barked and Jim shook his head. “He’s quite fond of rolling in fish guts, but I’ve never seen him actually eat any.”
“Beluga is made from the finest fish eggs,” Mackland pointed out. “And I’ve never heard of anyone catching a deadly disease from truffles or pate.” He pointed a fork at Caleb. “You will refrain from eating the central nervous systems of any animals while in my custody.”
“I suppose I’ll have to mix something else with the scrambled egg sandwiches I was going to pack for your road trip,” Jim said, shooting a wink in Caleb’s direction.
Mackland sighed. “Left over pie and a large thermos of coffee will suffice.”
“We’re going on a road trip?” Caleb asked around a mouthful of apples. “I thought we were going to stay here for a while.”
It was hard to miss the disappointment and Mackland returned his gaze to his plate. “It seems Jim has an assignment for us.”
“A hunting assignment?”
The doctor registered the barely contained excitement in the teen’s voice. Jim had been telling stories once again, and Mackland wasn’t sure about his agreement to Caleb being slowly introduced into the workings of the highly secretive society. Daniel Elkins’s insane plan had robbed them of keeping the boy completely in the dark.
“One of the utmost importance,” Jim said. He leaned towards Caleb. “I am sending Mackland on a quest to bring in no other than Johnathan Winchester.”
“Is he a bad guy?”
“On the contrary, I believe he has the makings of a great hero.” Jim paused for what Mackland interpreted as theatrical effect. “Like Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.”
Caleb laughed. “I know there are no real Musketeers.”
“Of course there are. They may not be on horseback defending the king, but there are great men protecting the innocent as we speak.”
Mackland snorted. Caleb had also bought into Singer’s outlandish and exaggerated tales of his many battles with the supernatural.
“Yes. I believe so.”
“Is he going to be a hunter?”
“From what I understand he has already started on that path, but it will be his decision as to join us or to continue on his solo journey.”
Mackland cleared his throat, breaking the spell. “Not all hunters belong to The Brotherhood, and some don’t meet the criteria.”
Caleb took another bite of pie. “Because The Brotherhood is like The Musketeers.”
Mackland smiled. He had only himself to blame for that association. “Yes. We are a selective group.”
“That makes you like the King, Pastor Jim.”
Mackland hid his smile behind his coffee cup. “Or perhaps the Cardinal.”
“On that note, I believe I will call Johnathan to let him know you and Caleb will be arriving in Dayton tomorrow afternoon.”
“Ohio?” Mackland raised a brow.
“Yes.” Jim stood, taking his plate with him. “You can take the church van.”
Mackland recalled the archaic atrocity with the rainbow painted on the side. “I’d rather not.”
“There’s the truck.”
“I could have flown there, you know. I have a private jet at my disposal.”
“Why shorten the journey when that is the most important part?”
Mackland sighed, recognizing he was never going to win an argument with Jim Murphy. “I knew I should have rented a car at the airport instead of letting you pick us up.”
“I like the truck,” Caleb said.
“It’s settled then.” Jim placed his plate in the sink, starting for the stairs with his coffee in tow. “Betsy will be thrilled to get out of the barn and stretch her legs.”
Mackland shook his head at the pastor’s tendency for anthropomorphism. You would have thought he was saddling them up on one of his rescued race horses. He turned to Caleb. “After you finish your pie, get some rest. It seems we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
“Can I drive?” Caleb shoveled the last crumbs of his pie into his mouth.
“Only if I’m unconscious.”
Caleb raised a brow. “Any chance of that happening?”
Mackland lifted his mug. “Not until you’re at least sixteen.”
The motel was not in the best part of town and was in a state of ill repair. Before The Brotherhood, he’d never carried a weapon, nor traveled to seedy sections of cities to meet complete strangers. Now, he was comforted by the shoulder holster beneath his coat, but he felt a wave of anxiety of exposing Caleb to possible danger.
Caleb looked unfazed by their surroundings, unclipping his seatbelt. Mackland caught his arm before he could open his door. “Perhaps it would be a good idea if you stayed here until I checked it out.”
“Did you see the neighborhood on the drive in? I think I’ll take my chances with you, Magnum.” Caleb gave him a sideways grin. “Unless you want to leave me with the keys to Pastor Jim’s Ferrari and your piece.”
Mackland sighed. The teen watched entirely too many cop shows. “No driving and no guns.”
“Then I’m coming too.”
Mackland couldn’t disagree with the logic. “Stay behind me and stay quiet.”
Mackland knocked on the door of Room 108.
“What do you want?”
The voice was rough and held no hospitality. Mackland peered straight ahead towards the peephole. “I’m Dr. Mackland Ames. I’m looking for Johnathan Winchester.”
The door opened. A man close to Mackland’s age stepped out of the room. His hair was shaggy and dark and he had a slight beard. He wore faded jeans and a nondescript black t-shirt with scuffed boots. Jim had described him as a highly decorated marine, but Mackland thought he resembled a cross between biker and cowboy. The thing that drew most of Mackland’s attention was the sawed-off shotgun he held. “Show me your hands.”
Mackland frowned at the order, but complied. He extended his arms, thermos gripped in one hand other palm held open. “As I said…”
“The boy, too.”
“Excuse me?” Mackland stepped in front of the teen. “He’s a child.”
“No, I’m not!”
Caleb moved forward, slipping around the doctor. He held his hands up to be included in a game of let’s rob the convenience store. “You can frisk me if you want. This is way cooler than I thought it would be.”
“No, it is not cool,” Mackland said. He shifted his gaze back to the man, who was no longer looking at either of them but staring at Mackland’s side.
“If you are inquiring as to my weapon status, then yes, I have a gun as any sane person who comes into this neighborhood should have.”
Mackland started to reach for it, but the telltale sounds of the shotgun being primed halted his movement.
“Have the boy get it.” Winchester shifted his focus to Caleb, and Mackland bit down on the surge of sudden vulnerability. “Handle first, Kid.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. As I said, I’m Dr. Mackland Ames…”
“I don’t give a shit who you are. Now have Junior here remove the weapon or this conversation is over.”
Mackland rolled his eyes at his foster son’s audacity. The teen put down his hands, the crooked smile on his face evidence of just how cool he believed the escalation of their situation to be. “For Christ’s sake, be careful.”
“I know how to handle a gun,” Caleb said, indignantly.
Mackland would have to ask why that was when they returned home. After the discussion where he told Jim Murphy just what he thought of his growth experience.
Caleb reached in and removed Mac’s Glock, extending it towards Winchester. From the glow in the boy’s eyes, he might as well have been offering a sword to one of the King’s trusted guards. Winchester took the weapon and the teen raised his hands once more as he took a step back.
The man must have been satisfied because he lowered his shotgun. “Who sent you?”
Mackland lowered his arms, noticing Winchester’s eyes tracked his hands the entire time. “Pastor Jim Murphy.”
The man looked from him to Caleb again, some of the wariness fading before he opened the door a little more, shifting his footing. “I’m looking for information about my wife...”
Mackland held up a hand. “Perhaps we should talk more inside.”
“You got some ID?”
Mackland raised a brow. The interrogation continued. “I have a driver’s license. Will that do?”
“ID’s can be faked. Murphy mentioned something else.”
The man was sharp, and extremely cautious, perhaps even verging on paranoid. Mackland switched the thermos he held to his left hand and lifted his right, the silver band catching the light of the one street lamp burning. “That would be my ring.”
“All hunters wear them,” Caleb said.
Mackland narrowed his eyes, and the teen clamped his lips together tightly with an exaggerated slump of his shoulders.
“Alright.” John hesitated, but finally stepped back allowing them entrance. “Come in.”
“As I said I’m Doctor Mackland Ames.” Despite his irritation he summoned well-ingrained manners and extended his hand in greeting. John stared at it for a long moment. He ignored replying in kind, instead returning Mackland’s gun. Mackland returned the weapon to his holster and gestured to his foster son. “This is Caleb.”
John didn’t respond to the teen. “Murphy explained my situation?”
“Yes.” Mackland looked around the room, which appeared worse on the inside. It was an old efficiency, faded wallpaper and stained carpet which reeked of mildew. The main living area held a desk, a television stand devoid of the actual television, and two standard beds. A small kitchen area was separated by a foldaway partition, a tiny table and two chairs crowded into the corner by the stove. “Are you alone? Jim had mentioned children."
John ran a hand over his beard. Mackland watched as he lowered the gun, but kept his fingers wrapped tightly around the handle. He still wasn’t convinced they weren’t a threat.
“You contacted us. Remember?”
John met his gaze, before finally relaxing his stance. “Dean, you can come out.”
The door to the bathroom opened and a little boy cautiously stepped through. Mackland placed him at around five years; the chubby baby he was holding in his arms might have been one if that. The elder was dressed in well worn pajamas adorned with cars and trucks; the baby was in a tee and diaper.
“These are my sons.” John placed the shotgun on the desk, lifting the baby into his arms. “Sammy,” he placed a hand on the older boy’s shoulder. “And Dean.”
Mackland lifted a hand. “Hello, Dean.” He turned to the baby. “Sammy.”
Dean peered at Mackland with wide green eyes, his gaze going from the doctor to Caleb, lingering on the teen.
The little boy didn’t reply, sidling slightly behind his father’s leg, pressing his face into the man’s jeans. Sammy jabbered an unrecognizable run-on stream of vowels, lifting the plastic ring of keys clutched in his chubby palm in a friendly greeting before pounding them against his father’s cheek.
“Why didn’t Murphy come?”
The rough voice brought Mac’s gaze back to Winchester. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Johnathan. One doesn’t merely meet with The Guardian.”
“It’s John,” he said. “What’s with all the cloak and dagger stuff? I just want information, that’s it. I told Missouri I could handle the rest on my own.”
“Perhaps we could have a drink.” Mackland lifted the thermos, pointing to the tiny eating area. “Jim makes an amazing cup of coffee.”
John’s eyes went to his oldest son. “The boys…”
“Caleb could entertain them.”
“What?” Caleb took a step back. “No way.”
Mackland turned to face the teen. “That wasn’t a request.”
Mackland raised a brow and Caleb’s shoulders sagged yet again. He groaned under his breath, dropping his blue backpack to the floor. “Whatever.”
John seemed as sold on the idea as the teen. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Caleb is quite responsible. They’ll be in our sights the entire time.” He caught John’s gaze. “I’m not sure our discussion is appropriate for children.”
John looked to his son again. The veteran marine’s face softened and Mackland noticed the hard edge disappeared when he smiled at his son, deep dimples framing his boyish grin. “Hey, Ace, how about you hang out with Caleb while Dr. Ames and I have a quick talk in the kitchen?” John’s palm seemed to cover the entire side of his face as he cupped the little boy’s chin. “I’m not going far, kiddo.” He bent eye level with the child. “I need you to keep an eye on your brother for me. Okay?”
“I have a book,” Caleb said.
Mackland cut his gaze to his foster son. “I could read it to you.” Caleb was holding out the paperback copy of The Three Musketeers that Mackland had given him. “It has all this really cool stuff. Sword fighting, Knights and horses.”
“Sounds good, Ace.” John nudged his son forward. “Something besides Dr. Seuss for a change.”
“Maybe you could also assist Caleb in his homework, Dean,” Mackland said. He was surprised and more than a little pleased at Caleb’s offer. “I believe he has an English paper due on Monday.”
Dean turned his attention to the teen. “I know my ABC’s.” The words were soft, barely audible.
“Okay,” Caleb said. He shot Mac a dour look, then nodded to the bed with some toys on it. “That yours?”
Dean nodded. John put the babbling baby in the middle of the bed, grabbed a bottle from the nightstand handing it to Dean with the order to keep a close eye on his brother.
Mackland caught Caleb’s arm as he turned to pull a chair towards the bed. He lowered his voice. “That was a very nice gesture. Thank you.”
“Geez, Mac, it was no big deal.” Caleb shrugged off the praise. “I can play babysitter for a few minutes as long as it doesn’t become a habit and we won’t be here all night.”
“Of course.” Mackland released him with a knowing smile. “How could I have mistaken your actions as honorable?”
Caleb rolled his eyes and moved on, but not before Mackland witnessed the slight flush of color on his cheeks. Mackland gave a shake of his head as he watched the teen kick back in the chair, putting his Converse clad feet up on the bed. One step forward, two steps back. He was learning to pick his battles.
“Grab that bottle.” John’s directive reclaimed Mackland’s attention. The other man pointed to the carafe of whiskey on the television stand. “Irish Coffee work for you?”
A snifter of brandy would have been more agreeable, but Mackland would embrace the change. “Why not?” He picked up the amber bottle, imagining Jim would at least be pleased at his lack of rigidity, before following Winchester through the opening into the kitchenette.
“Is he your son?” John pulled a mug and what appeared to be a recycled jelly jar from a small dish drainer by a one bowl sink.
For a moment Mackland was confused, but then he realized John was referring to Caleb. “No. Caleb’s parents were killed. He has no family.”
John set the mug in front of him, thankfully keeping the Mason jar for himself. He took the remaining chair. “Family is the most important thing a man has.”
From what Mackland had seen upon their arrival he was pretty certain it was the only thing John Winchester had. “Pastor Jim explained your wife’s death. I’m sorry.”
John reached for the liquor, but wasn’t quick enough to hide the grimace. His face twisted in pain. “My friends think I’m crazy.” He rubbed his eyes before uncapping the bottle. “Hell, maybe I am.”
Mackland opened the thermos, inhaling the rich aroma that reminded him of Murphy’s kitchen. “A few years ago I might have believed the same thing.” After the antics at the door Mackland wasn’t completely certain John Winchester was entirely stable.
John dumped a generous shot of alcohol in his glass and slid the nearly empty bottle towards Mackland. “Murphy said you were a shrink. That why he sent you? To see if I’ve got some screws loose.”
“No.” Mackland filled his mug almost to the rim with the thick black brew. “I don’t have a practice. I work mostly with the FBI now, although originally neurosurgery was my area of expertise.” He offered Jim’s thermos to Winchester. “I still consult and do the occasional stint in the OR if the case interests me.”
John accepted the coffee with a frown. “You don’t look like a Fed.”
Mackland added a dash of the Johnny Walker. “I’m more of a liaison.”
“Search and rescue.”
Winchester took a drink, coughing slightly as he stifled a laugh. “Sorry, but you look less like S&R than you do a suit.”
Mackland picked up his coffee with a shrug. “Looks can be deceiving.”
“I don’t give a shit who you work for as long as you get me the information I need.”
“What exactly is it that you think we have to offer?”
“A fucking lead on the thing that killed my wife. Missouri said this Brotherhood deals with things behind ‘the curtain’.”
“Suppose I did know what killed your wife. Then what?”
Winchester’s dark eyes narrowed. “Then I hunt the sonofabitch down and kill it.”
“You do realize it won’t be that simple.”
“I’ve been looking for six months. The police are no help and the most I have to show is a freaky-ass meeting with a psychic and two sketchy telephone conversations with a pastor in bum-fucking Kentucky. I think I understand just how difficult it might be.”
“What exactly did Missouri tell you?”
“Some crazy shit, but at least she believed me about the fire.” John’s gaze went to the other room and he lowered his voice. “She believed me about what that thing did to Mary. She went to the house…tried to feel it out.”
“And she gave me some kind of spiel about how evil it was…and how my family wasn’t safe.”
“And you believed her?”
“I saw it with my own eyes,” John snapped. “She was gutted on the ceiling, and then she …”
Mackland held up a hand. “You don’t have to explain.”
“Gives new meaning to seeing is believing.” John took another long drink. “And since it happened…I have this feeling, that I can’t shake.”
“Like something is watching you?” Mackland asked.
John nodded. “Yeah.”
“What?” John snorted. “You wake up from a peaceful night’s sleep to find a monster in your house, to find your whole world going up in flames, too?”
“No.” Mackland held John’s condescending gaze. “I woke up from a six month coma to realize I was caught in a nightmare I couldn’t escape. That was five years ago and there are still days I pinch myself.”
John took another drink. “Sounds complicated.”
“I don’t need complicated.”
“Forgive me for my bluntness, but I sincerely doubt you have any idea what you need.”
“But you seem just the type willing to set me straight with your well-educated opinion, Ames.”
“I think talking to Jim Murphy is a start.”
“I have no problem with that. Missouri says if anyone can help me, it’s him.”
“I don’t think she was speaking only about the information on your wife’s killer.”
“Then what the hell was she talking about?”
“Missouri believes your family is still in danger and she thinks Jim and The Brotherhood may be the only means of protection.”
“I can protect my boys.”
“Like you protected your wife?” Mackland had never been one to mince words. Jim told him he was going to have to be more subtle, considering hunters were not his usual constituents. The murder in John Winchester’s eyes was yet another reminder of Jim’s wisdom.
“You don’t know anything about me, you sonuvabitch!”
Mackland held the livid man’s gaze. Medical school had taught him if one was going to make a point, to at least do it with confidence, showing no fear. “I know you were in the Marines, a decorated combat veteran, and if this wasn’t a situation of the supernatural variety I might find you quite capable of handling your own, but you have no idea what you are dealing with. In fact, I’d say you would have a hard time defending your family from say the likes of me, or perhaps even from that thirteen-year-old boy in there, if we were in fact your enemy.”
Again John studied him, leaning in closer to encroach in his personal space. “I worked recon. While you were getting your fancy medical degree I was doing things they don’t write about in text books or publish in shiny brochures. You really want to make that bet?”
“It’s hard to kill a man if you can’t move.” Mackland casually lifted his coffee cup to his lips, taking a deliberate sip. John’s hand went under the table where Mackland imagined he had a weapon stashed. It was meant to be a display of bravado and proof of his capability.
Only John never got his hand clear of the table as Mackland pinned him with a bored gaze, still holding his steaming cup. “I’ve never actually measured the amount of pressure I can exert telekinetically, but I’ve never had any human evade my restraints. Spirits are harder, some creatures immune.” He took a sip. “I could have snapped your neck out there when you were divesting me of my weapon if I had so chosen. Or maybe twisted your shotgun into a pretzel.”
“What the fuck are you?” John growled, trying to break free.
“I’m just as human as you but the point is I might not have been.” Mackland set his mug on the table, taking the opportunity to be the invader of Winchester’s bubble. “There are things behind that curtain Missouri told you about that can mimic faces, things that could read your mind for those unimaginative security measures you attempted when you let us into your home. They would have known you were thinking of a ring, plucked Jim Murphy’s name from your thoughts. Caleb could have done it, and he’s barely brushed the surface of his training. There are beings that can stop your breath with a thought, control your body with only a modicum of concentration or a spell. Guns and knives and your Marine training are mostly by themselves useless in this world you have found yourself in.”
Mackland leaned back. “You should have had your doors and windows salted, hex bags at each entrance. You may continue to go after that thing that killed your wife on your own, but you can not protect your family if you have no idea what it is you are protecting them from. Your pride will get you and your children killed. I take you for a man that would be familiar with the concept of ‘Know thy enemy’.”
“Sun Tzu,” John grit out.
Mackland nodded, relinquishing his psychic hold. “A man who understood strategy to be the key to any battle.”
Winchester’s shoulders slumped and he ran a hand over his beard before resting his head in both hands. “Fuck,” he breathed. “Fuck it all.”
Mackland waited and when John looked at him, the anger was gone, replaced with grief and breath-stealing sorrow. “I just want my life back. I want Mary back.”
The doctor sighed. “Nothing we can offer will bring your wife back. But Pastor Jim may be able to offer you a new life, one where your sons will at least be safe.”
“And the thing that took Mary?”
“The Brotherhood offers resources you would be unable to find on your own. This ring is more than a piece of jewelry; it’s a key and a shield.”
“So was the fucking Swastika.”
Mackland blinked. “And Jim thought I was being blasphemous by comparing The Brotherhood to a cult.” He toyed with his drink. “The Brotherhood’s roots can be traced back to the Knights Of The Round Table. They are an honorable, albeit secretive society sworn to protect innocents from the darker side of the supernatural.”
“So this Murphy is like Merlin…sequestered somewhere in his magically protected castle.”
Mackland had to smile at the astute comparison. “Not exactly. Although, I have a feeling Pastor Jim would be highly pleased by your metaphor.”
“All I’m saying is nothing in this world comes for free, especially the kind of power you say Murphy is promising.”
“All I’m proposing is that you meet with him and decide for yourself.”
“You trust him with Caleb?”
The question John wanted answered was, 'do you trust him with your son?' John had two in the other room, linked by blood and to his wife. They were precious. Mac had Caleb, and he didn't know if he would think of him as a son, an apprentice or what, but there was something there to build on, promises to be kept. "Yes, I trust him.”
“My boys are all I have left.”
“Then I suggest you place them in the most capable hands possible.”
“Why did you join this Brotherhood?”
It was a fair question, one Mackland asked himself daily. “Like you, I glimpsed behind the curtain, discovered far more than I ever wanted to know. With my ignorance purged I had no choice but to accept certain truths; and once knowing the truth I hadn’t the luxury of forgetting.”
“So, it was the only place you had left to go.”
Mackland took a moment, not wanting to give the wrong impression. The Brotherhood was not an escape, by no means was he running away. In fact, it was becoming his biggest challenge. “It was the right place for me.”
John continued to watch him, his dark eyes never straying. “Dean’s different since Mary…he doesn’t talk much, mostly to Sammy.”
Mackland acknowledged the words for the risk they represented on Winchester’s part. It was like the moments when a parent would thrust a treasured toy into his hand, eyes brimming with desperate hope for some information that would lead them to what they had lost. He took a deep breath. “Children react to trauma differently than we do. Intense emotions are overwhelming to them. They lack the verbal acuity to tell us what they’re feeling, to explain their pain. Some express it with anger, tantrums, night terrors, but others shut themselves off, creating a self-erected barrier from reality. It’s a means of reclaiming some kind of control, a defense mechanism.”
“Can you help him?”
Mackland gripped his coffee cup, the warm ceramic grounding him. “His heart’s been broken, that’s not something one gets over so easily.”
John dropped his gaze to his coffee. “No. It’s not.”
“Jim’s farm is a wonderful place for a boy. He has a dog, horses, trees to climb, and the finest apple pie this side of the Mississippi.”
Again John snorted. “You don’t strike me as the farm type.”
“I’m not.” Mackland grinned. “A stroll in Central Park is my idea of the great outdoors.”
“A New Yorker?” John raised a brow. “You a Yankees fan?”
Mackland grinned. “As sure as Yankee Stadium is the house that Babe built.”
John leaned forward. “You do know that Babe Ruth started out with the Sox?”
Mackland recognized the fervent gleam of a devout fan. “Even the wisest of men make grandiose errors of judgment, often times in the beginning of their careers.”
John leaned back, his unnerving gaze hooded once more. “Some of us can’t afford mistakes.”
Caleb’s voice could be heard over the tense quiet between them, and then the faint sound of laughter- a little boy’s giggle. John’s face changed in an instant, his own self-imposed wall slightly giving way.
“I haven’t heard him laugh in months.” His eyes watered. “I’d almost forgotten…”
“It’s a beautiful sound.”
John met his gaze briefly, before looking to the band on his left hand, reverently running his thumb over the gold. “I only wear one ring.”
“Maybe you’ll feel differently one day.”
“Change isn’t easy for me.”
Mackland recalled Jim’s words to him. “Not all changes are for the worst.”
“Trust is even harder.”
Mackland nodded, not sure why he felt as if he were offering a part of himself when he’d merely come to offer an invitation into their ranks. “I’ll make sure you won’t regret it.”
The vibration of his phone startled Mackland from his memories, Robert Johnson’s masterful ‘Love in Vain’ ringtone barely audible over the helicopter’s noise despite the sealed cabin. He sighed as Bobby’s name appeared on the screen. “Yes.”
“I’m almost to the airport.” He ran a finger over his eyebrow as he listened to his friend on the other line. “No one is to do anything until I get there.” Mackland took a deep breath. “How is she?”
He closed his eyes, preparing himself for the reply. Bobby had already said enough during his previous call. “I know I have to tell them, but I’m going to the farm to do it in person. From there I will be on my way to you. Tell her I’m coming. I’ll call you from the air.”
Mackland thumbed through his contact list, a phantom ache in his chest as he came to Jim’s name, John’s just beneath it. His thumb hovered over the send button that would connect him to the farm, but he decided an unannounced visit would be best. He scrolled to John’s name and hit send instead, not surprised when his old friend’s voice echoed over the line. Unbeknownst to Dean and Sam, Mackland continued to pay the bill. He waited for the beep.
“Where’s The Knight when I need him? I don’t remember this being in The Scholar role description.” He sighed, knowing the ritual was senseless, his obsession to cling to it absurd. John had been dead going on two years, and even when he was alive he chose to return only a handful of Mackland’s messages. But a part of Mackland always trusted that John listened to every single one, believed wholeheartedly that he heard him even now. Mackland had come a long way from a man so reluctant to use the terms faith and miracle. Such beliefs were now his sustenance. “I’m headed home. You and Jim should be there…I need your strength, his guidance.”
Mackland felt his eyes sting as the helicopter dipped, starting its decent. “People keep dying and I don’t seem capable of stopping it…of saving them. Dean’s days are flying past. We’re down to a week now and if we lose him, I’m not sure we can hold onto Sam and Caleb…Goddamnit, John!” Mackland brought a fist to his forehead, pushing against his skull, desperately trying to hold onto his composure. He took another breath, swallowed hard to keep his throat from closing up. “I know I brought you into this... I brought those boys to this, but I need your help.” Jim may have sent him, but Mackland was more than an innocent messenger. He had made promises to John. John, while although infuriating at times, had become a brother to him, which made his failures even more blasphemous. Caleb and Samuel believed him incapable of truly understanding their fears; but Mackland knew all too well. “I just wanted you to know, Johnathan…that’s all. I just wanted you to know.”
Mackland cut the connection, never feeling quite so alone. With a barely held back sob, he brought the phone to his chest, blinking away the traces of his momentary weakness. They had lost another battle, but not the war. John and Jim trusted him to continue the fight.
Little did Mackland know the trust John showed him that day so long ago and the faith he in turn offered as he lead the way back to Jim Murphy’s farm would blossom, extending from Caleb to Dean and Sam Winchester. It would lay way to fertile ground where a family as real as any by blood would take root and blossom giving Mackland the shelter he would have never found on his own. More importantly, their choices and Jim’s tutelage led to the promise of a new Triad, a possibility for salvation for not just any lone individual, but for mankind. It was an honorable quest, the most important of Mackland’s life. Death would not win. Love was invincible, hope unconquerable.
Author’s Note: As Tidia put at the end of her epilogue to Marked
we hope this AU will always be about hope, hence why we created the
future generation you see at the end of that story. It was fun and we
hoped readers would like the possibilities as dark times are ahead in
the AU. Rest assured, we don’t see the boys settling down anytime soon,
nor will we ever focus on romance or have a relationship of that nature
become more than an off-side necessity or tease-worthy banter. We love
the boys’ relationship and will continue to work on that, and if we
touch in that future generation, (I have a one-shot I’d like to try
sometime down the line) that too would remain about the boys. For me,
it was just nice to think that whatever may happen, in the end good
would conquer and love would remain. Pastor Jim’s legacy would live on
in the generation to come.