6: How Many Devils Can Dance" by: Ridley C. James
“My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call ‘good', but I wasn't sure whether I liked ‘goodness' as much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that is also dreadful?”-C.S. Lewis
“He didn’t want to go.”
Caleb lifted his gaze from his plate when Sam spoke. They were in the small cafeteria of the hospital, picking at the meals Mac had ordered them to eat. The younger man slammed his palm on the table as if Caleb wasn’t paying attention or replying quickly enough. It garnered looks from the few late night patrons.
“Uriel didn’t give him a choice,” Sam continued as he leaned across the granite top. “And Castiel didn’t raise a fucking wing to help. What kind of angel does that?”
He pushed his cardboard burger and limp fries away, trying to gather his thoughts. Since Sam called him with the news of Dean’s divine kidnapping, he had been unable to wrap his mind around much. Were angels dangerous allies or on the side of good? He knew one thing for certain; staying with Bobby after Pamela’s funeral was a mistake. “The kind we have an issue with.”
Sam looked at him, his eyes shining with an emotion Caleb couldn’t quite read. The kid seemed to be riding the adrenaline kick of a gig, but he’d never seen Sam so jazzed. “I asked him to help Dean. Did I tell you that? Practically begged the bastard.”
Caleb nodded. He arrived just after Castiel pulled his vanishing routine, and Sam was so worked up that if he hadn’t been able to sense Dean, Caleb would have assumed the worst. Sam hadn’t mellowed, even after Mac arrived to take over Dean’s care.
"It’s more proof that they are just as screwed up as everyone else. They have no right to judge us.” Sam strummed his fingers on the table. “If a garrison of angels can’t take care of one upper-level demon, then we have to do what it takes to protect our own.”
Caleb’s stomach knotted at the mention of Alistair. Seeing Dean lying helpless in the hospital bed, hooked to numerous machines and a ventilator brought back too many memories from the mess with The Yellow-Eyed Demon. Mac’s assurances of Dean's recovery held little solace. Caleb wouldn’t feel better until he talked to his friend.
“I’m glad I killed the son of a bitch.” Sam smiled, but it held no warmth. “I only wish he had known something so I could have prolonged the torture.”
“You got Dean out of there. That’s the most important thing." Caleb mashed the hamburger, watched with some strange fascination as the ketchup oozed out.
“He thought I was going to send him back to Hell." Sam snorted. "He underestimated me. That was a mistake.”
Caleb felt the vibrations of Sam tapping his foot against the floor. The kid was far too keyed up. “Your abilities have gotten stronger, young Jedi. You’re quickly surpassing your teacher." Caleb played his role, but did it without his usual relish of Star Wars quips.
Sam flexed his fist. His silver hunter’s ring flashed as he looked at Caleb. “Ruby said I still have room for improvement.”
Caleb rubbed his eyes. Ruby finding Dean complicated a situation already teaming with twists, turns, and potholes galore. She had saved Deuce. Caleb couldn’t help to feel indebted; though he was sure her motives to do so were wrapped around her plans to stay in Sam’s good graces. “She must have one hell of an accelerated tutoring program. Sylvan Learning For Psychics?”
Sam dipped a French fry in the little container of ketchup with gusto so that the small piece was covered red, dripping on his fingers. “She’d be willing to do the same for you. She thinks you have the same potential-the same blood.”
Caleb straightened, laying his palms on the cool surface of the table for a jolt of awareness to clear his thoughts. “Come again?”
“What if I told you there was a way you could increase your abilities, become stronger than you ever imagined?” Sam ate the fry, then licked his fingers.
“I tried that once with the amulet.” Caleb studied Sam carefully, remembering the talisman's effects. “It gave me a thrill ride alright, but the costs outweighed the benefits. You helped me realize that.” The power had been intoxicating; the repercussions of his actions far outweighed the rush.
“Maybe I was wrong.” Sam picked up another fry, but only gave it one bite before putting it back in the tray with his half finished chicken sandwich.
“No. I’m pretty sure you were the good old voice of reason. If I kept using it, I don’t think I would have been able to stop, and let’s not forget that we still don’t know what I released from the pit when we went after Rose.” It added to the guilt he felt about the things he did when he knew they were wrong, going against everything those he cared for most held true.
“What you did while using the amulet is a possibility with Ruby’s help. It would be all you this time-your gift. Together we could overcome any demon. Destroy Lillith. Maybe even Lucifer.”
“Whoa there, who's having delusions of grandeur?" He referred to the tried and true Star Wars reference, opting for some normalcy with Sam when the conversation seemed to be veering into the unfamiliar.
“The angels think Dean is the key to stopping Armageddon, but they’re wrong. Their secret plans for him are going to get him killed. What happened with Alistair is just the beginning. He’s not strong enough.”
Caleb leaned across the table closer to Sam, since his other choice was to stand and pull the youngest Winchester out of his seat. “That’s not true.”
“Come on, man. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed." Sam gave Caleb a humoring pause. "Dean’s different since returning from Hell.”
“I know he doubts himself more.” All those tiny fissures John created in Dean’s spirit as his son grew up, Hell’s fire split wide open. “Which is why we need to believe in him even more than before."
“That doesn’t work with Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, and it isn’t going to work here. Dean’s weak, and unless we realize, accept he didn’t come back the same person we knew before, then he could be a liability in battle.”
“Don’t talk about him like that.” Now Caleb was the one drawing attention. He took a deep breath, lowering his voice. “Where the hell is this coming from, Sammy? You’re starting to freak me out here.” Maybe the stress of Pam’s death, and now Dean’s injuries were taking their toll. Another twinge of guilt had Caleb wishing he had been more vigilant in shouldering his share of the growing angel and demon debacle.
Sam held his gaze. "What if Dad, Mac and Jim didn’t put us in The Triad to protect us so much as to prevent us from becoming as powerful as we could be, to keep us from a different kind of destiny?”
Caleb blinked, realizing they were in completely uncharted territory. He was confused or Sam was confused. “I don't understand. You’re talking about our family. You really believe they had a malicious purpose?”
"You've had to question it yourself. Two demon tainted people happen to be two thirds of The Triad by coincidence?" Sam's foot tapping seemed to take on a different tempo. "Then the one person who is supposed to keep us on the straight and narrow ends up being the weakest link."
“This sounds like Ruby talking. Deuce may not be on the top of his game right now, but who would after going through Hell. He made it back, he's strong, and Jim knew Dean was the best choice as a Guardian. You know that.” Caleb didn't want to continue this conversation. He wanted Sam to say Caleb was right.
Sam ignored the accusation about Ruby. "What I'm saying is that we can be more than what Jim hoped for. Better.” The younger hunter looked down at his hands and then back up to Caleb. “I know you don’t trust Ruby, but she wants to advance our side. She knows things, can show us things, and really help."
"Help me and you how?"
"Like how to kill demons." Sam laughed. "I saved Dean’s life. You know how he’s always ending up in danger, and now I can do something about it. I helped him, and I've helped save others all because of Ruby."
Rescue or no rescue, Caleb saw Ruby for what she was- a demon. The only misunderstanding may have been in underestimating the bitch. “So you want me to sign on with Team Ruby?”
“I want you to be open to the possibility. After what the angels did to Dean…”
“And what about Deuce? What about The Triad? The Brotherhood would never go for me and you having such strong psychic abilities." They had already fought their battle to be recognized as the next Triad with Griffin. All their hard won legitimacy would be lost if Caleb considered utilizing what Ruby was offering. They would be hunted. “Do you understand what you’re saying?”
Sam closed his eyes. "Maybe I'm not saying this right. There aren't two sides, good versus evil. There's a lot of gray. Griffin and the others would understand. Look at the lengths he was willing to go to when he believed he was doing what was necessary. Caleb, the angels had Dean torture someone, knowing what it would do to him. If I hadn’t gotten there…"
“For fuck’s sake Sam, you’re asking me to pull a goddamn Fredo here. And we all know what happened to Fredo. He was sent out on a boat on the orders of his brother to be killed because he betrayed the family." The Brotherhood would never go for a Scholar and Knight trained by a demon. They would never respect a Guardian who had no control over The Scholar and Knight either.
“Dean isn’t the Godfather.”
“No. He’s the Guardian. More importantly he’s your brother. He’s my best friend.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s always right, like with the astral projections. We talked about it at the bar after Pamela died. I love my brother, but I know he thinks I'm a freak. You too.”
Caleb had needed time to sort through his emotions, find some clarity before facing the Winchesters. It bothered him that Dean hadn’t called when he knew better than anyone how Caleb had felt after Jim’s and John’s death. He wouldn't defend Dean's mistake, but he would defend himself. “I've never denied where I come from.”
“Right.” Even in the wake of Dean’s death, Caleb had shielded Sam. But he was beginning to understand that the lifelong habit of shielding Sam might not have been the best plan. Sam seemed to morph before him, his face holding little likeness to that of the boy Caleb had known for the last twenty-six years. “Because you’ve been open and honest about your demon side, Dean forgives you.”
“I’ve asked for his forgiveness once. I don’t plan on putting myself in a situation where I’ll have to do it again. Have you?” Caleb softened, wondering if Sam had done something he was not proud of to help his brother. They had both been guilty of it before, blinded by grief after Dean died, both of them spiraling to places where it was hard for any light to reach. Maybe Sam was still fighting to climb out of that darkness. "No matter what you do Dean will forgive you. You want to talk about it? Is this where all this is coming from? Why you’re off?"
“There’s nothing wrong with me.” Sam shook his head vehemently. “I'm just trying to do what's right."
Caleb held Sam’s gaze, unsure of what to say in the face of the other man’s certainty. A familiar sensation skipped across his mind, saving him from further argument. He glanced to the exit. “Dean’s awake.”
Caleb looked at Sam, relieved to find a genuine smile on his face again. “Yeah. Thank God.”
Mackland met them coming out of the cafeteria. Dr. Patel, Dean’s attending, was with him. They had test results and good news. Dean was off the ventilator, his respiration no longer compromised, and the preliminaries predicted a full recovery. At Mac’s insistence Sam stayed for the long physician spiel. Caleb gladly accepted the job of keeping Deuce company during the family consult. Sometimes being the best friend paid off.
“You’re definitely looking better without the gaudy tubing accessories.” Caleb walked into the room, unable to keep the goofy grin from his face. “Plastic and medical tape is not your thing, Deuce.”
Dean’s hoarse, breathy voice was no surprise considering the trauma to his larynx, but the raw emotion on his face, the trace of tears on his lashes, had Caleb’s protective instincts flaring. He quickened his step to his best friend’s side. “What’s wrong? Do you need a nurse?” Caleb reached for the call button, letting his finger hover over the help sign. “Mac’s just downstairs…”
“No.” Dean closed his eyes.
Caleb let his hand drop to his side, carefully taking a seat on the side of Dean’s bed. “What’s wrong?”
“Cas was here.”
Caleb placed a hand on Dean’s arm, looking around the room to search for evidence of an otherworldly visitor. “When?” He waited for Dean to look at him. “What the hell did he say to you?”
“Uriel is dead.” Dean licked his lips, wincing as he swallowed. “He betrayed them, was killing angels.”
He rubbed a hand over his face. He had read the Bible, more than once now. He knew how Michael and the angels fought the fallen angels and forced Lucifer to Hell. Caleb was disturbed there were still bad angels. “Sam told me about the ganked cherubs when he called.”
Dean frowned. “Sam?”
Caleb remembered a time when that would have been the first question out of Deuce’s mouth. It was hard accepting the current weirdness of the Winchesters. The boys' relationship had always been a constant for Caleb, like the North Star. “He’s downstairs with Mac. He’s fine.” Caleb tilted his head. “Worried about you is all.”
“He should be.”
“What’s that mean, man?” Caleb adjusted the canula with one hand; it was riding higher on one side of Dean's face.
“It means I did this…I started it all.” Dean's voice was a raspy whisper.
Caleb tightened his grip on the younger man, feeling the ripples of pain that had nothing to do with the beating Alistair delivered. “Maybe we should talk about this later. You need to rest.”
“Alistair told me I broke the first seal. Cas confirmed it. This is all happening because I broke.”
The words registered in Caleb's mind, he was shocked, but had to have a quick answer. A pause would be detrimental to his friend. “Damn it, Deuce. How many times do I have to say it? It was Hell. Anyone would have broken.”
Dean tried to nod, winced, and instead closed his eyes. “Dad didn’t.”
“What?” He didn't want Dean to talk anymore because of his throat, but also because of the emotional pain zinging through their connection. It was overwhelming.
“Alistair tortured Dad for a hundred years. He held out, didn't break the seal. They broke me, the so-called righteous man.” Dean blinked, another tear rolling down his cheek. “I’m weak like Sam said.”
Caleb tried to assimilate all the information. The idea of John suffering in Hell had tormented Caleb for months. To have the depth of his fears confirmed nearly had the half of the burger he’d managed to force down reappearing. The ramifications for Dean were a hundred times worse. “Deuce, demons lie.”
“Not this time.” He looked at Caleb, his breath heard over his bruised vocal cords. "I'm fucked up, Caleb. I'm not who you think I am."
"I know who you are. Who you've always been." Before Dean could utter the word pathetic that was in his mind, Caleb overruled him. "Strong.”
“Cas says I have to end it, take on Lucifer. I can’t do that.”
Caleb thought back the conversation with Sam in the cafeteria, the kind of power the kid was promising. His conviction wavered. “You’re not alone. You have me and Sammy backing you up.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
“Look, Deuce, I wish it were Johnny who broke the seal, I really do, but as much as he was a good man, he didn't always do things for the right reasons." Dean opened his mouth to speak, but Caleb raised his hand. "He jumped into this life to avenge your mom, it drove him. He did save people, but you've always done this gig to help people. That's a righteous man. That's something to be proud of."
"Proud," Dean's voice try to take on a higher quality of disbelief, but it was lacking. His voice cracked instead.
"Yeah, proud, because maybe it was meant to be you because you’re The Guardian." Caleb recalled when Dean received his ring. The younger hunter had not told Caleb he was injured so Caleb could finish the job, and prevent others from being hurt. He remembered he told Jim that Dean had the heart of a Guardian, and as much as Caleb loved John, that was where his mentor and Deuce differed.
Dean let out small laugh, then winced. “Of course. That’s it.”
Caleb was grasping at straws. He could feel his grip on his friend slipping. He tightened his fingers around Dean’s wrist, even though what he was in jeopardy of losing was intangible. “Think about it. You’re in a better position than John could ever have been in. We know more than John, Mac and Jim ever knew.”
Dean's lips thinned. “The mysterious Triad power.”
“Exactly.” Plus as Sam had pointed out - The Scholar and The Knight were working with demon tainted abilities. Jim always said his abilities, and the ones Sam exhibited at young age, were a blessing.
“We don’t even know if we can use the power as a weapon.”
“It's the best kind- a secret weapon." Caleb was buoying himself. "I'll find it. As soon as you’re on your feet I’ll make it The Knight’s priority mission.”
“What if you don’t? What if I’m the reason the world’s destroyed?”
The doubt easily crept in, it was hard to combat. It was a battle that needed to be won. “You have the resources to finish what you started. You're not a quitter. You're not a lot of things you think you are."
"I'm so fucking tired." Dean closed his eyes.
Caleb moved his hand to rest on his best friend’s forehead. "Get some rest, Kiddo."
Dean nodded, but when Caleb started to walk away, the younger man called out to him in a barely there rasp. “Damien?”
Dean struggled to open his eyes, making it only to slight slits. “I’m sorry about the astral projecting."
Caleb gave a watery laugh. “This dying, fake dying, and nearly dying thing you got going on is really starting to get old. You need to find some other way to keep your right hand man on his toes. And I’m sorry, too. I was being pissy, but I blame job stress.”
Dean gave him a halfhearted smile that Caleb took as a sign that all hope wasn’t lost. “I’ll put in for a bonus for my Luca Brazi.”
Caleb winced at the reference to the Godfather's enforcer. The enforcer's job description was much like The Knight's. “My loyalty doesn’t come with a price, dude.”
“I never thought it did.” Dean's voice was practically nonexistent.
“Don’t make me lie to your brother and Mac.” Caleb pointed at him as he walked backwards towards the door. “Sleep. Now.”
Once outside, Caleb leaned against the wall closing his eyes. He was weak kneed, reeling from the emotions, Sam’s earlier energy, Dean’s misery and his own helplessness. The proof of his poor state was when Mac’s touch startled him.
Caleb straightened, quickly palming his eyes. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t hear you guys.”
“Is Dean all right?” Sam was staring at him with concern.
Caleb forced a grin. “Better than before Mac ran us off.”
Mac folded his arms over his chest; Caleb recognized his father’s scrutiny. “In my medical opinion you and Sam needed a break.”
“You wanted us out of your hair.” His father wanted to focus on his patient, not Sam and Caleb's worrying.
“I’m going to check on him," Sam stated.
Caleb stepped in front of the door leading to Dean’s room. The fierce desire to protect his friend reignited to counter Sam. “No.” He tried to shake free of the feeling he didn’t quite understand, running a hand over his mouth. “Deuce is asleep and you look like shit. Why don’t you go back to the motel, grab some much needed Z’s yourself?”
Sam hesitated, looking from Caleb to the door. “You talked to him?”
“He’s a little strung out from the pain meds, but he’s okay," Caleb confirmed.
“Rest is the best thing for him,” Mac interjected. “For both of you.”
Caleb snorted. He wasn't going to leave just yet, no matter what his father's wishes were. “I didn’t go a few rounds with Alistair, Runt. You need a nap.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m not five anymore.”
“Go on, Sam. I’ll send Caleb as soon as I catch him up on what Dr. Patel and I discussed with you.” Mac placed a hand on Sam's shoulder.
Sam nodded. “Okay.”
Mac waited until Sam was down the hall before he turned his knowing gaze on Caleb. “Son?”
Caleb resumed leaning against the wall, hitting his head with a tap against it. His father knew he was hiding something. "What if Deuce is collateral damage of this war?"
Mac sighed. "What did he tell you?"
Caleb felt an irrational anger building “The angels should fix this."
His father pulled his arm, gesturing with his neck to back away from the opening to Dean's room. "It isn't their job, Son. Their job description doesn't include healing."
He knew his father had become an expert on angels once Dean had said they had pulled him from Hell. Caleb had sought out information too, Mac had misunderstood. "That's not what I mean. Castiel told him that he broke the first seal, then said he'd be the one to stop the apocalypse from happening."
Mac shook his head. "I had a feeling that was the case, about the first seal. I wish I was wrong."
"I never thought. . ." Caleb hadn't made an attempt to guess why the seals had started to break. His stomach clenched at the thought his father had made some sort of connection. He dismissed the feeling of insecurity when he thought about his father not sharing the theory with him. Caleb returned his focus on his current point of contention. "Angels are supposed to provide strength and encouragement, not fuck around with people." His father didn't like the crass language, but the word fit. Dean felt beholden to Castiel, trusted him and Caleb wanted to believe that it was justified.
"Maybe they trust you and Sam to do what is best to get Dean through this."
He didn't know if he had convinced Dean of his value, a value that would stop the apocalypse. He didn't know if he wanted to send his best friend into such a battle, which may require yet another steep sacrifice. "It's like my best isn't good enough. I don’t even know where to start."
Mac pulled the stethoscope from around his neck, and held it in his hand. The hospital had given a white coat as soon as he had introduced himself. "Jim used to say, 'where God guides, God provides.'"
Caleb rubbed his chin, the grittiness of growing whiskers. He missed Jim. "When did he say that?"
"All the time in his sermons." Mac's eyebrows rose. "He would even give Biblical examples."
"I thought that was to get more money in the collection plate?" Caleb joked, but he understood the meaning. The signs were all there— Mac getting his abilities through a horrific car accident, him losing his parents, Sam, Dean and John's loss. Caleb couldn't blame God for any of them because in the end it became a binding force to guide them to The Brotherhood and to each other. Jim knew, tried to tell them all so many times. "What's going to happen to The Brotherhood? Do you have any other theories you want to share?"
Mac glanced down the hallway, making sure they still had privacy. No one was bothering them, or needed access to Dean's room. "I am still The Scholar, Caleb. I have to think about all the possible avenues."
Caleb quelled. He had lashed out at his father because he knew there were no repercussions, unlike most things in life. "Sorry, I know you are not having an easy time of it either."
"You want to sit with him a bit longer?" Mac asked, showing Caleb he was already forgiven.
“I want to get him out of here. Sammy, too.” The weariness was taking its toll. He couldn’t work up any real anger. “Go some place where none of this matters anymore. Somewhere they’ll be safe.” Caleb didn’t know what safe was anymore. He had always believed the checks and balances were being weighed, the good guys being watched over and protected, no matter the forfeited battles and occasional losses. Sam was right about one thing. The grey was bleeding into their small world, blurring the lines for everyone.
Mac put a hand on the back of his neck, giving it a warm squeeze. “You do not know how many times I wanted to do that exact same thing.”
Caleb snorted. “That your way of telling me running away doesn’t help, Dad?”
“That’s my way of saying I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to do whatever it takes to protect what is mine. I know Bobby feels the same.”
Caleb smiled. “One for all and all for one.”
Mac laughed. Caleb took it as a sign that there were some things that never changed. “I think Pastor Jim couldn’t have said it better.”
Caleb licked his lips, glancing towards Dean’s door. “I will sit with Deuce a while longer.”
Mac nodded. “I think that sounds like a very good start.”