"Somewhere in the middle" by Ridley C. James
Somewhere between the hot and the cold
Somewhere between the new and the old
Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be
Somewhere in the middle you’ll find me- Casting Crowns
The bar was typically seedy and packed. Caleb Reaves weaved his way through the masses, taking a moment to smile at a few of the more interesting patrons. He made a mental note for later in case Dean was in the mood for a different kind of hunting.
It didn’t take long to find him. Caleb didn’t need to search the room psychically. Instead he followed their typical pattern of choosing the table or booth farthest from the door and in sight of the emergency exit. He motioned to the bar tender for a drink and slid into the seat across from Dean.
“Deuce. I see you got started without me.”
Winchester looked down at the array of shot glasses and Tequila bottle in front of him. “You’re late.”
“Dude, I was in Alabama.” Caleb had been a state over when Dean called. “Cut me some slack.” Caleb glanced at his watch. “Besides it’s still early.”
“Right.” Dean tossed back another shot with a slight grimace. “Tri-Corp.”
Reaves frowned. Something was off. It wasn’t like Dean to drink just for the hell of it, especially so early in the evening. “Yeah, project in Mobile, but I was planning on meeting up with you guys tomorrow.” John called the day before ‘requesting’ Caleb’s presence in New Orleans for a new gig he was researching.
“Here’s to you, Damien.” Dean toasted Reaves, before taking another drink.
Caleb studied the younger man, tempted to search his friend’s thoughts. A sudden surge of protectiveness rolled through him, and he leaned closer to the table. “What’s going on?” There was definitely something off. Caleb could guess what it was, was pretty damn sure, but would rather have his friend tell him in his own words.
“Does there have to be something going on for me to want to hang out…blow off some steam?”
Reaves waited for the waitress to slide his drink in front of him and leave them alone once more before replying. “No.” He tried for his typical humor, discounting what he assured himself was irrational fear. “You could just say you really miss me, Deuce. I wouldn’t hold it against you.”
Dean rolled his eyes and his mouth twitched. “You were actually the third person I called. Bobby was too far away and Jim’s a buzz kill.”
Caleb snorted. “Right.” He took a gulp of his beer. “So I’m here now. Spill it.”
Dean arched a brow. “Spill what?”
“Whatever’s going through that freaky head of yours?” Caleb leaned against the back of the booth. “I’m guessing it has something to do with the wicked Winchester bookends.” No psychic ability needed there. Sam and John had been at each others' throats for almost a year. It was beginning to wear thin on everybody, especially Dean.
The younger hunter studied the table a moment before finally glancing up. When he did the depth of feeling swirling in the green eyes surprised the older hunter. “They’re driving me fucking nuts, Caleb. I had to get the hell out of there, man.”
Caleb peeled the label on his beer bottle, schooling his own emotions. It was so hard being caught between the old feelings of boyhood hero and this new sensation of anger and frustration at seeing John's sons hurt. His loyalty to his mentor ran hot and cold these days. “Same old shit?”
Dean nodded. “Dad turns everything into an epic battle. Anything from what we’re having for dinner to who’s covering who on a hunt, to who screwed up said hunt. He throws down the gambit. Exerts his authority over the stupidest shit.” The younger hunter swallowed hard, the simple act looking painful. “And Sam…he can’t let up. He won’t back down or let it go.”
Sam could be as stubborn as his old man. “What prompted the latest skirmish?” Caleb took another look at Dean when the kid sighed. There was something more than the hint of too much alcohol. Dean could hold his liquor better than Reaves. The kid was pale, a thin sheen of sweat on his brow. His hands were shaking slightly. Caleb’s ‘spidey sense’ was on full alert.
“We were on the hunt,” Dean replied, using the back of his hand to wipe his forehead. “Checking some of the swamps for signs of the rougarou. It was supposed to be simple recon work. Dad wanted to wait for you, take a four-man team to do the actual job so we could split into twos and cover more area.”
Caleb nodded. John was an odd combination of reckless abandon and common sense. “Sounds smart. Those bastards are bad ass. Almost like a Wendigo. My grandmother used to tell stories that made them sound scarier than a sleepover at Bobby’s.”
“Trust me, this thing made Bobby’s junk room look like a trip to Cinderella’s castle.”
“You guys saw it?”
“Saw it. Engaged it. Killed it.” Dean rubbed his eyes. “Dad thought it would be safe to do the scouting during the day. He figured they would only hunt for food at night.”
“Let me guess…Sam probably tried to tell your dad that wasn’t always true. The runt and I talked about that on the phone yesterday. We both came to the conclusion the typical rules didn’t apply.”
“Yeah. But Dad thought Sammy had spent more time filling out college applications than he did on the ins and outs of all things rougarou. He poked holes in your's and Sammy’s theory.”
“Johnny point the finger of doubt and blame? Never.” John loved his boys, but he did not tolerate dissention in ranks. The hint of John losing control was slowly pushing his mentor towards an invisible edge.
“And he does it so sweetly,” Dean agreed.
Caleb frowned as Dean lifted his beer bottle and held it to his forehead for a moment. Dean rarely spoke against his father. The kid was sweating like he was trudging through one of the surrounding swamps in the sweltering summer air instead of sitting in an air-conditioned bar. “You okay, Deuce?”
Dean sat the condensation covered bottle down and rubbed his eyes again. “Yeah. I guess. Maybe not.”
Reaves’s frown deepened. “What do you mean maybe not?” The nagging irritation that something was wrong blossomed into full-on dread.
Dean licked his lips. “I…I think that bitch got a swipe in.”
Caleb’s heart sped up, pounding against his chest. “The fucking rougarou?”
“It was going after Sam.” Dean met his gaze, a guilt-filled look glazing his glassy green eyes. “I thought I could patch it up myself. It didn’t look too bad.”
“Fuck, Dean, did you use the right kind of herbs?” Caleb leaned against the table again, searching the other hunter’s drawn features. The blank look was the only reply Caleb needed. “Did you at least let your dad look at it?” A rougarou was not like a traditional werewolf although many compared it to such; it didn’t bring about transformation with a bite, but it did carry pestilence and death.
“What? And have he and Sam start throwing blame back and forth again. I’m not giving them more ammunition, man. I’m sick of being their pull toy, watching them hurt each other. Dad would go all ape-shit and Sam would feel guilty and then indignant. He’d end up blaming Dad and our lifestyle. Dad would blame Sam’s lack of interest and all around piss-poor attitude.”
“Goddamnit, Deuce!” Caleb stood up, moving to the other side of the booth. He placed his hand along Dean’s forehead and growled. “You’re burning up.” Blaming John right now felt good. Caleb could jump right on that bandwagon. Being angry with Sam was harder. It wasn't the kid's fault John was a bastard. He wanted to believe his mentor would do anything to protect his boys. But the one exception often came when his blind obsession was fed by a hunt.
Dean pulled away. “It’s New Orleans in July, genius. Of course I’m burning up.”
“Get up!” Caleb demanded, superseding terror for Dean’s safety overriding any of his usual tact when dealing with the kid.
The younger man glared at him. “I didn’t call you to get another drill sergeant.”
Reaves took him by the arm to pull him out of the seat. “Now, Dean.” There was no time to waste. No time for questioning or negotiation. It was like a hunt. On a hunt, Caleb was in charge-responsible.
The younger man hissed in pain and pulled away. “Cut it out, Damien.”
Caleb’s resolve softened with the familiar nickname and the hurt look on Dean’s face. Anger fled, quickly replaced by breath-stealing concern and regret. He felt lightheaded and nauseous.
Caleb should have said something to John before now. He had done it before, pleaded his case to Jim and Mac. No one seemed to listen to him. Especially John. “I’m sorry, kid. But we need to get you the hell out of here. Somewhere I can check you out.”
Dean frowned, looked at the half-empty bottle of tequila. “Not home. I don’t want Dad and Sammy fighting about this. I can’t deal.”
Caleb clenched his fists, but gave his best friend a tight nod. “I know a place.” Caleb wasn’t sure he could deal either. Lucky for them New Orleans, being the most haunted city in America, had its fair share of hunting contacts. They needed someone who knew their stuff. Caleb had grown up in the area, his grandmother’s old place not too far from where they were. He remembered a few people.
A faint imitation of Dean’s typical quick smile shadowed his face. “A brothel? Dude, you promised me a trip to the French Quarter.”
Reaves shook his head at the kid’s twisted sense of self-preservation. He motioned for him to slide out of the booth. “Maybe after your life is no longer hanging in the balance, kiddo. Somebody in this outfit has to have his priorities straight.”
“Seems like a perfect time to me,” Dean slurred slightly. “No better painkiller.”
Dean was unsteady on his feet. Caleb reached out to steady him. “Even ladies of ill repute are offended if you pass out in the middle of the act, Deuce.”
“You would know all about disappointed women-and ones of ill repute.”
“Good to know you haven’t lost your sense of humor.” Because Caleb was quickly losing his. Along with his patience for John. He could feel the heat of Dean’s feverish body as he took on a good portion of the kid’s weight. Minute shivers were wracking his lanky frame. “You’re going to need it.” They were in for a long night.
Somewhere between the wrong and the right
Somewhere between the darkness and the light
Somewhere between who I was and who you’re making me
Somewhere in the middle you’ll find me. – Casting Crowns
Dean awoke with a feeling of confusion and fear. He was in an unfamiliar room. That in and of itself was not unusual. Dean had awoken to a lifetime of strange places.
It was the people filling the space who gave him comfort and a sense of familiarity. Dean felt safely cocooned in the shelter of his father and brother. But now that was slowly slipping away; leaving him feeling vulnerable and unprotected.
The uneasy sensation made worse by the way he hurt. Every muscle felt like it was on fire. Someone was using the inside of his skull for a concert hall, drum solo pounding. He was laying face first against a mattress, the tiny rose-print on the sheet fading in and out as he blinked furiously to orient himself. The dizzying effect of red and green, stop and go, caused his stomach to rebel.
The ache in his gut and sore abdominal muscles told him it wasn’t the first time, but thankfully there was nothing left to come up. Dean curled into himself as he rode out the cramps.
A flash of memory hit him full force. Dean recalled leaving the bar and shortly after Caleb having to pull off the side of the road because Dean was sick. The older hunter had supported Dean as he puked his guts out in some backwoods ditch. After things had gotten blurry.
Dean knew Caleb got him back into the Impala, remembered sensing the crushing weight of Caleb’s fear; but he’d been too spent to reassure his friend. In fact, Dean was pretty sure he might have been dying and felt bad for putting Reaves in the situation of having to tell Dad and Sam. But Dean always had a sinking suspicion Caleb would be left behind to deal with his untimely death. Dean must have passed out, whether from the alcohol or the poison cursing through his system he wasn’t sure.
It had been a dumb move-not treating the cut. Maybe a part of Dean did it out of spite. Punish Dad and Sammy for their complete disregard for what their battle was doing to him. He was constantly defending Dad to Sam and protecting Sam from their father’s wrath. Maybe it was a way to punish himself for failing to protect his father and brother…even from themselves. The latest debacle of a hunt was a perfect example. Dean’s current physical suffering was an ironic manifestation of what he’d been enduring emotionally over the last few months.
He didn’t realize he had vocalized his misery until a calloused hand touched his head. The contact didn’t bring comfort because it was a stranger. Dean wasn’t sure how his body recognized the difference, but it did.
Dean had felt estranged from those closest to him for a while now; both his father and brother morphing into people he no longer recognized. But despite their emotional abandonment their physical presence still brought solace. The current presence only induced panic.
It was a dread that jerked Dean to a sitting position like a marionette on a string. An inferno of pain raged across his upper arm, over his shoulder blade and down his back where the gash from the rougarou blazed a crimson trail over his pale, clammy skin.
The young hunter cried out and pressed himself against the headboard. “Who are you?” He demanded.
“Easy, boy.” The stranger lifted his hands in a placating gesture. “You don’t need to be moving around just yet.”
The man was big, at least his father’s size. He was close to John’s age too, maybe a few years older. It was hard to tell with the full red beard and dim light. A long braid of silver and auburn hair hung from beneath a battered cowboy hat, draping across one of the man’s broad shoulders. “Back off,” Dean bit out through clenched teeth.
“I’m a hunter.” The man lifted his right hand, flashed the silver band on his finger like a badge. “Member of The Brotherhood. Same as you.”
“Says you.” Dean winced as his voice broke. “For all I know…you could have gotten that from a fucking box of Cracker Jacks, Grizzly Adams.”
The man snorted, rubbed a meaty hand over his beard. “I guess that theory is as good as the others I’ve heard. Better than the one Bobby Singer came up with where old Jim Murphy pulls them out of his ass.”
Grizzly Adams was dropping names. Dean felt some of his tension dissolve at the mention of his friends. He swallowed hard, hoping his voice would sound more commanding than child-like. “Where’s Reaves?” The older hunter wouldn’t leave Dean unprotected. He’d be hovering nearby unless something was wrong.
“If I had to guess…” Grizzly’s answer was interrupted by the slamming of a door and heavy, hurried footsteps. “He’ll be here any time now,” the man finished, taking a step back from Dean.
“Dean?” Caleb breathlessly entered the small room. He was carrying a tray with a steaming tea kettle and several glasses. He shot a questioning look in Grizzly’s direction and the self-proclaimed hunter took another step away from Winchester.
“Hey. You’re awake.” Reaves held out the tray and waited for the mysterious hunter to take it before making his way to Dean’s bedside. “How do you feel?”
“That’s a step above the way you look.” Caleb rested a hand against the younger man’s forehead, frowning. “You’re still warm.”
“Where were you?” Dean pulled back and frowned. He licked his dry lips. “Where are we?” He added before the older hunter could answer his first question. “And who’s the cowboy?”
Caleb took a seat on the mattress. “I was downstairs in the kitchen. We’re at my grandmother’s old house. Bird owns it now, but neighbors keep an eye on the place.”
Dean was willing to bet his best friend hadn’t been back since Ruth had died. Caleb blocked out anything that reminded him of his painful past. “Sorry.”
The man seemed to understand what Dean was saying. “Don’t be. It’s okay.” Caleb glanced over his shoulder. “How’s he doing, Buzz?”
“Nearly took my hand off when he woke up, so I’d say the immediate danger has passed.”
Caleb smiled and relief colored his face. “Deuce, this is Buzz Adams. Boone’s brother.”
“Boone?” Dean searched his memory, his mind conjuring the image of a man with red hair, gray eyes, and a quick smile. He had worked jobs with John, although Dean hadn’t seen him since he was a kid. One thing did stand out in his mind though. “The guy who killed a grizzly with a piece of wire? Right?”
Buzz groaned loudly. “He had a pig sticker the size of a Samurai sword.” The man shook his head. “He always forgets that part. Did he show you the claw necklace he wears also?”
“Dean here has a thing about bears,” Caleb teased. “For days after hearing that story, he talked about Boone like he was a God.”
“Part devil is more like it.” Buzz filled one of the glasses with water from the kettle. “The signs were not the best at the time of his birth. Our grandfather was a strong Shaman. He warned my father about Boone having a forked tongue.”
Dean watched Buzz dump a mixture of herbs from a mojo bag around his neck first into his hand and then into the steaming cup. “Caleb?”
Reaves placed a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Buzz is one of the best rootworkers in The Brotherhood, Deuce. We were lucky he was close by. He saved your ass.”
“Hoodoo?” Dean arched a brow.
“I prefer Vieux Carre or Bywater conjurer.” Buzz winked at the boy. “Witch doctor works too. Now drink this.”
“What is it?”
“Do you really want to know?” Caleb asked with a raised brow.
Dean shook his head, familiar with the truly odd mixture of things Hoodoo rituals often called for. He reached for the cup but found his hands too shaky to hold it. Caleb helped him and he grimaced when the bitter, foul tasting tea touched his lips. “God.” He coughed when he finished choking the mixture down. “That’s bad.” Almost immediately a pain tore through him and he couldn’t help crying out, trying to curl into himself.
Caleb quickly set the cup aside and gripped his shoulders. “Deuce?”
“It’s the way of the elixir,” Buzz said, reverently.
Reaves glared at Buzz. “That’s what you said about the concoction you used on the wound. I thought the worst part was over.”
“I treated the entry site of the infection, Caleb. Some of the poison was bound to have latched on, hiding itself within the recesses of his body, hoping to find perch within his soul. He went a long time without treatment.”
“Soul cleansing?” Caleb growled, as Dean cried out again. “Is this what this is?”
“The holy water, blood sacrifice, and blessed herbs will destroy any traces of the beast.” Buzz frowned, tilted his head in a curious fashion. “I don’t think any magic I can do will help what troubles his soul.”
“Who asked you?” Caleb muttered beneath his breath. He tightened his hold on Dean, feeling the pull of the recent cut across his palm. He would sacrifice more than blood if he could have switched places with Dean. “Take it easy, Deuce. It’s okay.”
“I’ll come back in bit,” Boone announced. He squeezed Caleb’s shoulder before turning to go. “He'll come through this. That’s more than I could say a few hours ago.”
Caleb watched the older hunter leave and then returned his attention to Dean. “You still with me, Deuce?”
“Damien?” Dean winced at the weak sound of his voice.
“Am I dying?”
“No.” Caleb ran a hand over his hair. “It just feels that way.”
Dean let out a strangled laugh that sound too much like a whimper for his comfort. He wondered if dying might be easier and less degrading. “That’s good to know.”
Caleb sighed. “It'll be over soon.”
Dean told himself that a lot these days. Surely Sam and his father couldn’t continue to berate each other forever. “I hope…you’re right.”
“What can I do?”
Dean hissed as it felt like his insides were boiling. He found Caleb’s free hand and gripped it as if he were all of ten again. He’d let the other hunter tease him about the girl move later. Dean needed an anchor, a connection to keep him from going under. “Talk…about anything.”
Caleb swallowed hard. “How about those Sox?” He let his free hand move to Dean’s head, rested it against the kid’s hair. “We should catch a game this year. They’re coming to New York soon. Or even better we’ll go to Bean town.”
“Dad won’t go for it.” Dean’s breath caught and he felt Caleb tense.
“Then I’ll scratch up a sweet hunt, something more play than work. John will never know it’s a working vacation.”
“Right. Because Dad’s so easy going and hands off.”
“Who cares? We’ll get Mac to work on him or better yet- Jim.”
Dean appreciated his friend's attempt at levity, the control it took to keep his voice neutral. “Can’t,” he croaked. “He’d take it out on Sammy.”
“The runt can come.”
“Sammy’s too pissed to have fun.”
“He won’t always be pissed, Deuce. It’s the hormones. He’ll settle down.”
“I don’t think so.” Sam would never settle. Honestly, Dean wasn’t sure he wanted him to. “He’s going to leave.”
“So he goes to college. I went to college. It’s not like he’s going to stop being your brother.”
“Dad won’t let him just leave, man. There won’t be any pats on the back and happy send off.” Dean ran that scenario through his head a thousand times. It always came out bad. “John Winchester is not Mackland Ames.” Dean’s eyes were wide open to the differences. It was the divergence between the family he wanted and the family he had.
Caleb exhaled heavily. “You can’t keep playing both sides, Deuce. Somebody is going to come out the loser. It shouldn’t be you.”
“How the hell can I choose a side…” He panted as a new surge of pain tore at him, threatening to split him in two. “… When I’m stuck right in the middle?”
If Caleb had an answer to Dean’s question the younger hunter didn’t hear it. Sweet oblivion gave him the reprieve he had searched unsuccessfully for amidst the mess his life had become. Dean surrendered to the darkness.
Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves
Somewhere between a whisper and a roar…
The familiar burn of whiskey was welcomed. Like a strong embrace from an old friend. Not that John Winchester had a lot of friends. He took another long pull straight from the bottle before sitting it on the table once more.
It was past midnight. He should really get some sleep. His aching body and sludge-filled mind demanded it. But his thoughts had an agenda of their own. They kept replaying visuals of what had taken place only hours before. John’s photographic memory, the one which awed teachers and various commanders alike, was a bitch.
Winchester could not close his eyes without seeing the tangled, intertwined limbs of his sons as they lay sprawled on the forest floor. When their shouts first brought him through the tree line, gun raised ready for battle, he had felt a flare of frustration.
It looked like their typical wrestling match, much like the common battles for the television remote or the last of the fucking Lucky Charms. His boys could push his tolerance to the edge. They were after all related to him. Winchesters through and through.
But then the scent of the beast brought John’s eyes up from his struggling sons to the hell fed red glare pinned on his children. It was as heart-stopping and terrifying as blood drops from a fire consumed sky. Another image that would never be erased. All instances of trauma would forever be compared to the permanently etched picture of his beloved wife gutted and burning on Sam’s bedroom ceiling.
The rougarou was uglier and bigger than he imagined. The body- woman-like, and the head a twisted mold of something lupine. But all John saw was rage. The monster’s, his own; maybe they were the same. Maybe the rougarou had a cub or two. Maybe she needed the kill to feed her offspring. Perhaps that was what had brought about an increase of deaths in the area.
But all John saw was evil-a link to the destroyer of everything good. All John cared about was the she-devil standing between him and his boys-a living breathing threat to the only thing he had left of Mary. The silver bullets ended any hesitation and speculation along with the rougarou’s unholy existence. So it was similar to some degree to a werewolf. He had been mostly right.
Sam had come off the ground swinging. Not bodily. That wasn’t Sammy. But his biting words and scathing rebuke were more lethal than any physical aggression. He was like his mother in that respect.
Dean might have looked like Mary, but Sam was wired like her. She could cut John off at the knees with a look, a calculated stinging rebuttal. John was no match for her in combat. He always felt the loser no matter how their arguments ended. It was the same with Sam.
The boy had been furious, pissed the rougarou attacked during daylight. He rehashed their previous argument from the night before, pointing out flaws in his father’s logic, laying ground for his closing statement. It was the moment when John was suppose to cave, cop to being a stubborn bastard. A better man might have. The man he used to be.
He did it often with Mary, bowed to her amazing insight and audacity to disagree with him. They’d quietly discuss it at dinner, laugh unabashedly about it while listening to old, scratchy BB King recordings and then forget it completely at their bedroom door.
But that was before John lost his ability to rationalize, to accept defeat. There was no room for concession or retreat in battle even for those he loved most. John’s life was now war. And war was ugly and bloody.
He didn’t have the luxury of intimate chats over heartfelt meals, good blues or pleasures of the flesh that made a man’s life worth living. All John had was his boys. And most days he could see nothing beyond that.
He blamed the unfairness of it all for lashing back at Sam, for getting in his face, shaking him so hard he was sure he had felt the kid’s teeth rattle. Then Dean was there, stepping in between, telling them to cool off. His eldest barked orders to Sam about getting salt before turning a fiery gaze on John. ‘The job’s not finished,’ he’d said. That boy of his was damn smart.
John took another long drink of the bottled fire, wincing as it washed away more guilt and regret. He glanced up at the dark windows, sensing movement; but all he caught sight of was his own sad likeness. He barely recognized it.
Losing faith and hope was dangerous. It left pock-mocks in your soul. Invisible wounds. Dangerous, deep fissures waiting to be filled by other things not so nice. Things like grief, anger, rage and vengeance. Emotions brought in with the red tide of loss.
John was full of these demons. Instead of offering a buffer like hope, buoying him like faith, they drug him down. Sunk him to a level where he could punish his son for insubordination instead of conceding his faithlessness.
The knock on the door turned him from his shattered reflection; anger flaring that Dean had stayed out so late and forgotten his fucking key. He’d have to have words with that son of his.
The reprimand died on John’s lips as he opened the door to reveal his protégé instead of his oldest son. “You’re early, Junior.” Winchester glanced at his watch. “Make that late. Really late. You said you would be here tomorrow.”
“Doesn’t matter now, does it?” The younger hunter strode in without invitation. “I hear you finished the job without me.”
John frowned, shut the door. “Didn’t plan it that way; but yeah, the rougarou is taken care of.”
Caleb had made his way to the table where he reached out and lifted the half-empty bottle of whiskey. “Good old Johnny always gets his mark.”
John was in front of him in two steps, plucked the alcohol from the younger hunter's hand. He’d seen that disappointed look before. It was amazing that Caleb could so resemble Mackland Ames when there was no shared blood between them. “You pissed because I didn’t save some action for you?”
“No. I’m pissed because you’re a stubborn sonofabitch.”
John held the younger man’s heated gaze. “Watch the attitude, Dude.”
“What the hell were you thinking, John?”
“I can tell you what I’m thinking now, Junior.” He sat the bottle down on the table, rubbed one hand thoughtfully over his chin. “I’m thinking you better have a good goddamn reason to bust in here all full of piss and vinegar.”
Caleb stepped into the man’s personal space. “Or you’re going to what? Demote me? Send me to the brig?”
Sam’s voice stopped John from replying. Both men turned to find the lanky teen leaning in the breezeway that led to the tiny living room.
“What’s going on?”
“Get the holy water and my journal, Sam,” John growled. “I think Caleb is possessed.”
“Skip the exorcism, Sammy. Give me a minute alone with your old man.”
Sam listened to neither man. “What’s wrong now?”
“Your dad fucked up. That’s what’s wrong.”
The teen snorted and moved around the two to make his way towards the refrigerator in the corner. “You just now noticing that,” he muttered under his breath. Caleb glanced at him and the kid smirked. “Some psychic you are.”
“Go to bed, Sam!” John ordered. He was tired of the insubordination. This was one of those nights when he regretted sparing the rod.
Sam took out the milk and moved to the counter to grab a glass. “I’m eighteen.” He gave his father a look that dared him to disagree. “And Dean’s not even home.”
“Dean won’t be coming home tonight.”
John crossed his arms over his chest, turned his wrath on Reaves. “Oh really?”
John loved Caleb. There was no doubt of that. From the moment the scruffy, cocky thirteen-year-old was placed in his somewhat forced tutelage, a soft spot formed. Over the years he watched the kid become a man and warrior; his affection grew along with his pride in having a hand in the process. Jim Murphy had known what he was doing. They didn’t call him Merlin for nothing.
John knew he was almost as responsible for the person Caleb Reaves was as Mackland. As much as that pleased him; it could also come back to bite him in the ass. Like now.
Caleb could bestubborn and confrontational when backed in a corner. Sometimes his ‘frogginess’ forced him to jump out of the frying pan before he had a good mind as to the fire raging around him. Hewas fearless and loyal when it came to John’s sons. It was a strength John cultivated as well as a flaw he manipulated when it suited his purposes.
“You don’t want to go there tonight, Son.” John bared his teeth. “I’m not in the mood.”
“And I’m not your son!” Caleb snapped.
The hairs on the back of John's neck stood at attention at the blatant disrespect, his blood pressure inched up. “If you were my son, you’d be on the ground right now.” It was a bluff. John had never struck one of his own children in anger. It was probably the only thing saving Caleb at the moment.
“Or on my death bed.”
“What the hell are you going on about?”
“Dean. You almost got him killed tonight.” He glanced to Sam, still watching them intently. “And neither of you even noticed.”
“What?” Sam stepped forward, all signs of earlier disinterest fleeing. “What’s wrong with Dean?”
“The fucking rougarou, Sam. It got him.”
“That’s not possible.” John would have noticed. He would never make such a mistake. Not with his children. There would have been blood. Dean would have reported to him. “He was fine.”
“How the hell would you know?” Caleb raged. “You were too busy arguing with Sam.”
“Where the hell is he, Caleb?”
“Is he okay?” Sam moved to stand beside his father. “The rougarou is poisonous. If their victims aren’t treated…”
“I know that, Sam.” Reaves snapped, but then softened his voice. He met the teen’s fearful gaze. “He’s okay, Runt. Really.”
John ran his hands through his hair. “Why the hell didn’t he tell me he was hurt? He knew better than to pull something so juvenile and idiotic not to mention…”
“Don’t you dare get mad at him!” Caleb rounded on John once more. “You ever try talking to a raging bull? His whole life you’ve pushed him aside for the ongoing battle with everything evil and now you have this war with Sam. Sometimes it’s easier to blend into the surroundings than get pulled apart in the thick of things.”
“You’re lecturing me again?” He’d heard familiar arguments too many times over the years. But even as John focused his anger and outrage on Caleb, he felt the ache of self recrimination. Jim was fond of saying the only thing that ended up getting hurt when two elephants fought was the grass. Was it true? Was Dean being trampled in the wake of his and Sam’s head butting? It didn’t matter. He might have been a shitty parent; but he was still Dean’s father. “Tell me where he is or better yet, lead the way.”
Caleb shook his head. “No way.”
John had his hands in the younger hunter’s shirt before a conscious thought entered his mind. He slammed Caleb against the wall. “That wasn’t a request, Reaves.”
There was no flash of fear or surprise, but John read the disappointment and mixture of hurt easily enough. Caleb could pull off a ‘fuck you’ attitude; unless you knew him. He and Dean were a lot a like in that way. If one was aware, all it took was a hard look in their eyes and you knew what was really going on beneath the tough veneer.
“Dad.” Sam’s sharp voice was like a bucket of ice water. “Stop it.”
John shook his head. He’d already done enough damage to his family for one day. He let go of Caleb’s shirt, put some distance between them before he spoke again. “Did you use the correct herbs? That poison gets in the bloodstream and…” It was almost as deadly as a bite from a zombie.
Caleb held his gaze. “I called Buzz Adams. He has that shop here. He took care of it.”
“Right.” John nodded, knowingly. “The Buzz Kill. He and Boone are a couple of original ones.”
“He said we got to him in time. That’s why I’m here. I wanted you to know he was okay.”
And to know just how badly he messed up. Caleb didn’t keep quiet when it came to his concerns about Dean. “Buzz knows his stuff. He with him now?”
“I wouldn’t have left him alone.”
John rubbed a hand over his beard. Dean could have died. Shit. “This can’t happen again, Caleb.”
“You’re fucking telling me.”
The anger was back in the gold gaze. Caleb stepped forward, but John’s glare halted him. “Watch the language! I screwed up, but I’m still The Knight, and you better start showing me some fucking respect.”
Reaves's stance changed. “Yes, Sir.” He nodded curtly. “You screwed up.”
John rolled his eyes. He never used his knightly position, and should have expected an older Caleb would show his smart ass side. “And I’ll make it right.”
“I’m going to hold you to that.”
“And I’m going to hold you to the promise that my son is going to come back in one piece. First thing in the morning.”
“It’s already morning. Buzz said he needs to rest a few days.” He flicked his gaze to Sam and then to John. “That means peace and quiet.”
“No. I’m not.”
John clenched his jaw. Tried to remember every calming technique Mackland had so politely suggested to him over the years. Killing Caleb wasn’t an option. “Tomorrow.”
“We’ll see how it goes.”
John raised a brow. “Tomorrow.”
Caleb made it out the door without another word.
John let him go. He was too tired to continue their battle; too grateful Dean was alright. He felt Sam’s angry gaze on him, the weight of it staggering. He turned wearily. “Go on, Sam. Take care of your brother.”
The boy moved passed him in a huff, slamming the door in his wake. The sound was as final and resolute as a gun shot. John made his way back to the table where his old friend Jim Bean was waiting. The burn of the bitter whiskey was welcomed.
Somewhere between the altar and the door.
Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more.
Somewhere in the middle you’ll find me.-Casting Crowns
Sam wanted to scream at his father. ‘Look what you’ve done! I told you about the rougarou. I told you someone was going to get hurt. Maybe even killed.’
It was the same argument Sam had waged with his father for months. Their luck was going to run out. John’s obsession to kill more and more things evil was growing. Sooner or later his father would slip up, and the rest of their family would be lost. Dean could be lost.
The idea of it haunted Sam’s dreams. Left him living in constant fear. He was so tired of being afraid. For just a little while, he’d like to live in the blessed ignorance normal people survived in.
“Caleb wait up.”
The teen watched Reaves as he stopped at the front of his Jeep. He rested his hand on the hood. “I need to get going, Sam.”
He regarded Caleb for a moment. “Are you okay?”
The answer was quick and sharp, leaving no room for further inquiry. Sam didn’t believe it for a minute. He understood all too well the feeling one walked away with after doing battle with John Winchester. It left wounds. Especially if you loved the bastard. “And Dean?”
“I don’t know, kid. You tell me.”
The hint of anger directed at him didn’t surprise Sam as much as it grated on his already frayed defenses. He was used to anger. In fact he fed off of it. “What does that mean?”
Caleb ran a hand through his hair, then over his mouth. “Forget it.”
Sam didn’t back down from anyone these days. “No. Speak your mind. I’m not a kid anymore.”
Sam wondered briefly if the psychic was reading him. Honestly he didn’t care.
“No you’re not, Sam.”
Sam felt the overwhelming need to lash out at what he perceived as an accusing tone. “I’m not being childish because I want a chance at a different life, Caleb.” He’d heard that reprimand from his brother. It didn’t hold water. Sam was finally seeing things as an adult.
Caleb leaned against the Jeep, crossed his arms over his chest. “I didn’t say you were.”
Sam shook his head. “You’re going to take their side no matter what. You’re a hunter. Just like them.”
“Their side?” Caleb moved away from the Jeep. “You grouping Dean and your dad together now?”
“They both want me here.”
“For completely different reasons.”
“To an animal a cage is still a cage, no matter why he’s being penned up.”
“They’re trying to keep you safe.”
“Refer to my earlier point.” Sam was tired of being protected. He wanted some breathing room. He needed it. Caleb should have understood. It pissed him off he didn’t. “Dean sides with Dad every chance he gets. He won’t listen to anything I say about the man.” He let the fact that Caleb would automatically side with Dean go unsaid.
Caleb frowned. “Your dad and Dean have a different relationship than you and John.”
“Yeah. I have the guts to stand up to him.”
The psychic took a threatening step forward, pointed a finger at Sam. “Only because Dean is in the middle, shielding you.”
“I don’t need Dean to run interference for me. I have a mind of my own. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying to protect him too. Blindly following Dad’s orders is going to get him killed. Is that what you want? “ Sam knew it was low. He understood it to be one of Caleb’s biggest fears. He’d watched his father use it over the years to bend the psychic to his will. Just like John used Sam to keep Dean in line. Sam refused to let his father wield that kind of power over him. “Is it alright for you to argue with Dad over Dean, but not me?”
Caleb growled. “Damn it, Sam. I’ve been fighting this particular battle a whole lot longer than you have. I get where you’re coming from but you’ve got to stop dragging Dean in the middle. You’ve got to...”
“Do you?” Sam interrupted the speech, “Understand where I’m coming from? Because from where I’m sitting, you have no fucking clue. You may have to endure John Winchester’s wrath on occasion…but you get to leave. You don’t live with it day in and day out.” Sam could damn well list examples. “You have one home! Stable schooling! You went to college. You traveled. Don’t try to pretend you understand me or that we have some kind of bond because you've had to deal with Dad on some miniscule level.”
A myriad of emotions raced across Reaves’s face and Sam realized he wasn’t yelling at his brother or his father. Sam had never argued with Caleb, not in any kind of hostile manner. Sure they had sibling-like squabbles; but honestly Reaves, like Dean, mostly brushed Sam’s tirades off with a roll of his eyes and an infuriating head rub. But this look was different. Sam took a step back.
Caleb advanced. “And you got a chance to grow up with your father-a father who would do anything to protect you. You have a brother who would rather die than cause you any undo pain. You had years of shielding from the fucking monster that lurks in the dark.” Caleb came closer with each exhalation, his face growing angrier with every breath. He grabbed hold of Sam’s shirt, gave him a hard shake. “And I thought we had a fucking bond because we’re family, Sam. Because we’ve marked time together. Because I’ve been there for you more times than I can count.”
Sam blinked, his chest clenched. He had stepped across the line in needing to get his point across. He just wanted someone to hear him, sometimes resulting in drawing blood to get attention. It happened a lot lately. “We are family.”
Caleb nodded, roughly releasing him. “For better or worse.”
The teen swallowed hard, bit his lip to keep from tearing up. “I just want more of the better and less of the worse.” Was that really too much to ask for? Caleb seemed to deflate and for once Sam felt as if he might have said exactly what he was feeling in exactly the right way. He pushed on. “I want some good memories, Caleb; instead of ones tinged with blood and gore. Like when you, me, and Dean were kids.”
“Sammy…” Caleb sighed. “You’re the only one who ever got to be a kid.”
In his heart he knew it was true, even though it hurt to admit it. It was all an illusion, an elaborate play his brother, father, Jim Murphy and the others put on for him. “Because Dean made sure I got to be one.”
“Yeah.” Reaves pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes briefly. “Speaking of which, I need to get back.”
Sam watched him turn to go, unable to find any appropriate words to say to make him stay. He felt set adrift, alone in a tumultuous sea of his own emotions. But then Caleb stopped, turned to face him once more.
“Are you coming, Runt?”
Sam saw the rescue. The life ring buoyed in front of him. He grabbed it. “Yeah.
I feel you in this place.
And I know you’re by my side.
Even on these nights when I’m caught in the middle.-Casting Crowns
Dean awoke to silence and a room filled with early morning light. There was no sense of strangeness from before, only warmth. He turned slightly toward the window and the difference became clear. Looking impossibly uncomfortable, Sam’s tall frame was slouched in a chair drawn close to the bed.
His brother’s face was bathed in illumination, looking younger and more at peace than Dean had seen him in months. Without the disapproving scowl or hardened dark eyes, Sam resembled the ‘Sammy’ Dean had spent his whole life protecting…loving.
“You’re awake?” Caleb’s soft voice had Dean blinking and turning towards the doorway.
“Guess I made it, huh?”
Reaves grinned, moved on into the bedroom. “Barely.”
“That why you bring in Sammy? To do the deathbed vigil?”
Caleb frowned. “Don’t joke about that, man.”
“Sorry.” And Dean was. Caleb looked like shit. If he had to wager money, he was sure his friend had gone without sleep. “But I thought I made it clear about the whole Dad and Sam thing?”
“Do you remember Auburn?” Caleb sat on the bed. “The time you talked me in to letting you run a way for a couple of days?”
“Yeah. I was the one who felt the wrath of Dad’s belt.”
“I couldn’t let them worry.” Caleb glanced at the sleeping teen. “And seeing as how I’m older and wiser, I usually know what you need whether you’re willing to admit it or not.”
“You are older. Much older.” Dean raised a brow. “But tell me you didn’t get into it with Dad.” Dean let his eyes travel to his brother and then back to Caleb. “I have enough to deal with without you two going at it.”
“Johnny and I are good. He even let me have Sam as a departing gift.” Reaves patted the younger hunter’s leg and stood. “You feel up for some breakfast?”
Dean recognized the redirection, but the rumble in his stomach convinced him to let it slide. “I could eat.” He smirked. “As long as you’re not cooking.”
“Are you kidding? In New Orleans? The beignets here will melt in your mouth.”
“You said that about the women too.”
Caleb stood up and rolled his eyes. “When you can get out of that bed and can make it down stairs without any help, then we’ll talk about the women, Deuce.”
“You know I love a challenge.”
Caleb laughed. “Just don’t hurt yourself. It’d be embarrassing to survive a rougarou and then be taken down by your out-of-control libido, dude.”
Dean grinned. “What a way to go, though.”
“Rise and shine, Runt.” Reaves ruffled Sam’s hair as he went by, rousing the teen. “Watch your brother. I’m going for breakfast.”
Sam struggled to sit up, cursing Caleb as he rubbed at the crick in his neck. “Fucking jerk.”
“It’s always nice to wake up to such brotherly love in the room.”
Sam rubbed his eyes and focused on Dean. “You’re awake.”
“More than I can say for you.”
The teen glanced at the clock, yawned widely. “I’m sorry.” He looked guilty. “I must have drifted off a couple of hours ago.” Sam rested his elbows on his knees and studied his brother’s face. “How are you feeling?”
“Like something beat the shit out of me and then curled in my mouth to die.”
Sam searched the room. “You want me to get you something to drink?”
“Not unless it contains the hair of the dog that bit me.”
When the younger hunter’s face only grew more concerned, Dean grinned. “Sammy, I’m fine. I won’t be wolfing out anytime soon.”
Sam’s dark eyes grew more intense. “Rougarous don’t shapeshift, Dean.”
“It was a joke, Sam.”
Sam shoved at the long hair that fell across his eyes. “Nothing about this is funny.”
“Yeah.” Dean sighed. “You’re telling me.” There weren't a lot of laughs to spare in the Winchester home these days.
The light touch on his arm brought Dean’s thoughts back to the present. His brother’s hand was resting over his. “I’m sorry I screwed up, Dean.”
Dean’s brows drew together, he licked his dry lips. “It wasn’t your fault, Sam. I should have told Dad about the wound.”
“You could have died, man.”
“Yeah. So Damien said. Over and over again.”
Sam shook his head. “I…I couldn’t handle that, Dean. Without you…well I’m pretty sure Dad and I would kill each other.”
“He’s doing the best he can, Sam.” Dean believed that. He’d always tried to believe the best about his father and his brother.
“Yeah.” Sam withdrew his touch, clasped his hands together. “But his best efforts get us hurt, Dean. A lot.”
“Don’t worry, Dean?” Sam snorted. “Don’t blame him for nearly getting you killed…again? Can’t you just admit that you would rather be doing something…anything besides hunting?”
“We’re helping people.”
“When does someone help us, Dean? When do we get to be saved?”
“You think we need saving from Dad?” Dean tried to shove himself to a sitting position, anger fed adrenaline tricking his body into believing the task was manageable. His abdominal muscles rebelled and he couldn’t stop the gasp that escaped him. “Damn it.” Dean fell back against the pillows, fisted his hands in the sheets.
“Dean?” Sam moved to the edge of the bed, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder to keep him in place. “Take it easy. I’m sorry.”
Dean shortened his breaths, tried to focus on something besides the black dots dancing before his eyes. “I’m okay. It’s …good.”
“Right.” Sam raked a hand through his hair. “Caleb’s going to kill me.”
Dean forced an eye open; his mouth twitched. “You go toe to toe with Dad…and you’re worried about Damien? He’s a pushover.”
“He can be pretty scary when he wants to be.”
“Right. He might give you a noogie or God forbid…a wedgie.”
Sam sighed. “I’m trying to be serious.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard.” Dean closed his eyes, exhaled. “It’s your natural state these days.”
“I just want to have a normal life, Dean. I want it for you too. We could go to school together. I bet LSU would still consider you for baseball…the scholarship…”
“I’m really tired, Sam.” Dean interrupted. He glanced at his brother. Sam had proposed it all before. It sounded great. But Dean knew his place. It wasn’t as bad as Sam painted it to be,and it would never fall in Sam’s fairy tale future. It was somewhere between-in the middle and Dean could live with that. As long as his brother was in the picture. “You going to be here when I wake up?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
God how Dean wished that were true. “Okay.”
“Can I do anything?”
“Find a way to get me downstairs without Damien knowing you had to carry me.”
Sam grinned and Dean did too because it was a full-on, dimple-sincere smile. Rare these days. “We could slide down the stairs on pillows like we used to do at Pastor Jim’s farm.”
“Jim never forgave us for taking out the last banister. That new one never quite matched the others.”
“He never forgave Caleb,” Sam corrected. “We blamed it on him.”
“I’d almost forgotten that.”
“I haven’t forgotten, Dean.” Sam grew serious again. “I have a lot of good memories from being a kid because of you.”
Dean nodded. He had a lot of great memories of Sam as a kid too. He just wanted a chance to make more. “You haven’t seen nothing yet, brother. Wait until you turn twenty-one.”
Sam glanced away, his gaze going to the window along the wall. The light fell across his face, casting a shadow on his features. He stayed that way for a moment before facing his brother again. This time the smile was forced. “As long as I don’t end up worshiping the porcelain throne like you did.”
Dean swallowed thickly. “That was the best birthday ever.”
“And I’m not wearing a sombrero with sparklers either, whether we’re across the border or not.”
“That’s because you’re a little bitch.”
Sam laughed. “And you’re a big jerk.”
“As long as we can agree on that.”
The younger Winchester nodded. He quickly reached out and squeezed his brother’s arm once more. “Good to know we can still find some common ground between us.”
Dean would take that. He’d take whatever he could get. Even if it
put him somewhere in the middle.