Beta: TidiaTime line: Directly follows Tidia’s story Rites of Passage
guardian . n. a defender, protector or keeper
Despite the siren call of his bed, Jim Murphy made one final stop for the evening. The door to the boys’ room was slightly ajar, a yellow glow from Samuel’s Scooby Doo light leaking into the darkened hallway. The pastor maneuvered quietly around discarded shoes and clothing, wary of abandoned Matchbox cars and AWOL toy soldiers not packed away with their infantry.
Atticus Finch didn’t raise his head from his faithful sentry at the bottom of the bed, but the dark fur above his eye lifted, the Retriever’s liquid brown gaze tracking Jim’s movement. At first all looked as it should - covers drawn up, one arm hanging loosely over the mattress edge, soft steady breath filling the room. But then Jim realized there was only one precious lump where there should have been two.
He moved closer, leaning over the bed. The top of Samuel’s head barely poked from beneath the quilt, one-eyed Woobee Bear clutched in the four-year-old’s arm tucked under his chin. Sam’s mouth was parted in deep sleep and he didn’t move an inch as Jim placed the boy’s dangling hand under the blanket before scanning the room for the missing half of the Winchester duo.
The bathroom door was open, leaving the pastor with only one likely path to follow. He made his way stealthily across the wooden floor, avoiding the boards known to creak. Caleb’s door was slightly ajar, allowing a small shaft of illumination from Sam and Dean’s room. It was enough brilliance for Jim to barely make out Dean sitting in the chair by Caleb’s bed and for Dean to keep an eye on his sleeping charge in the adjacent room. The pastor sighed, getting the strong impression rest would not soon be his reward.
“Dean, my boy, what on earth are you doing up at this hour?” Jim kept his voice to a whisper, laying his hand on the child’s shoulder.
The eight-year-old didn’t seem startled by his presence. Dean continued to stare at Caleb who thanks to the pain medication slept on unaware of the astute attention. “Watching over Damien.”
“Mackland explained to you and Samuel that Caleb would be fine. He would not have been released from the hospital otherwise.” Despite his own assurances, Jim glanced to the teen, comforted by the steady rise and fall of Caleb’s chest.
“I don’t trust the angels,” Dean said.
The solemn declaration caught Jim by surprise. “Angels?”
Dean looked up at him. “The angels don’t do their job.” He sat up straighter in his seat. “So I’m taking over.”
Jim slowly sank, taking a seat on Caleb’s mattress so he was facing Dean. “I see.” The last thing Dean needed was another job.
Dean returned his intense focus to Caleb. His words were hushed. Jim leaned forward to hear him. “They didn’t watch out for Mom and now Caleb got hurt on their watch.”
Jim wasn’t sure where the conversation was coming from. He reached out and placed a hand on Dean’s knee, recapturing the child’s bright jade gaze. “My boy…”
“What about Sammy?”
“Samuel is fine.” Jim detected the hint of panic in Dean’s voice, and was quick to mollify the boy’s fear. “He…”
“Will never be safe,” Dean interrupted, blinking away one lone tear. He sniffed, swiping the back of his hand across his face. “No one is ever safe.”
“That’s not true,” Jim said. “You’re safe here. No harm will come to any of you while at the farm.”
“Why do you work for him?”
Jim frowned as Dean shot an accusing look his way. “Who?”
“God. He’s your boss. Right?”
The pastor sat back, folding his hands in his lap. “Yes. As a pastor I suppose God is my boss.”
Dean pressed on. “And the angels work for him too?”
“Angels are the messengers of God.” Jim thought simple answers were the best.
“Like the king’s musketeers?” This time Dean didn’t give him a moment to reply. “Some angels have swords like knights. Like that one named Michael from the painting in your room?”
Jim ran a hand through his silver hair, thinking he was foolish to believe anything with a Winchester could be simple. “Angels can be warriors. Yes.”
“They’re supposed to protect people, save them?”
“Yes.”Jim would stick with the truth. That always worked for him. “I believe that is their most important duty.”
Dean nodded as if Jim had just confirmed a very important suspicion. “Then they’re like hunters and God is like their Guardian.”
Jim held up a hand in protest, stunned that virtue had boxed him a corner. “I don’t know if one can…”
Dean showed no mercy. “Does God give angels something like the rings you give the hunters?”
“Perhaps he gives them grace, but…”
“Can he take it away if they don’t do their jobs? If they do something bad?”
Jim looked at Caleb, the spectacular bruises on his young face a blaring reminder the reality of his world was not as black and white as the one Dean was proposing. “I suppose if the situation called…”
Dean folded his arms over his chest. “I think God needs to clean his house and bust some rank.”
“Daddy and Uncle Bobby were talking on the way home from the hospital. Daddy said that’s what you needed to do because Caleb got hurt.”
Jim sighed. “I see.” John would have had Ian, Fisher and Joshua court-martialed despite the lack of evidence and in spite of his protégé’s collaborating statement.
“Are you going to punish someone, Pastor Jim?” Dean’s voice rose and Caleb stirred slightly, but didn’t wake.
“Who would you have me punish, Son?”
Dean zeroed in on the sleeping teen, unwilling or unable to voice the thoughts Jim could see swirling in his stormy green glare.
“I was the one who allowed Caleb to go on that hunt. It was my decision and that makes the ultimate responsibility mine.”
“It was dangerous.” Dean turned to face him. “You knew he could get hurt?”
“I understood it was a possibility.”
“Then why did you let him go?”
Jim remembered all too well the pleading look Caleb had given him when Ian asked if he would be joining the older boys on the hunt. It had the same beguiling pull as the imploring one now on Dean’s face. “He wanted to go.”
“Sammy wants to eat chocolate cake and ice cream for breakfast, but I don’t let him.”
Jim couldn’t help his quiet laugh. To the pastor the comparison was apples and oranges, but for Dean the sentiment was painfully the same. Jim searched his heart for a way to help the boy understand. “Do you remember when you and Samuel found that young injured hawk by the pond this past spring?”
“Icarus.” Dean nodded. “His wing was really hurt. Sammy thought it was because he flew too close to the sun, but Bobby said it was probably some punk-ass kids with a pellet gun.”
Jim bit back on the urge to remind Dean that Robert’s colorful vocabulary wasn’t always stellar, and stuck with the point at hand. “You and your brother brought Icarus home in that burlap sack. Mackland set his wing after tending to all the scratches and bite marks on you.”
“Mac wasn’t too happy about helping a bird,” Dean said. “But Caleb reminded him of that hippo law doctors have to listen to, even though Damien wasn’t too happy about how Icarus used his beak and talons during the rescue.”
Jim patted his knee. “In the end, Mackland’s skill and the care you and Sammy showed had Icarus on the mend. He was soon ready to rejoin his brothers in the woods.”
Dean glanced to the adjoining room where his little brother slept, then back to Jim. “Sammy was afraid to let him go, though. He didn’t want Icarus to get hurt again.”
If Jim remembered correctly it was not a three-year-old Sam who had been distraught at the idea of returning the hawk to the wilds, but the pastor decided to follow Dean’s lead. “Indeed. I do recall Sam was quite worried.”
“You told Sammy hawks weren’t made for cages.”
Jim smiled, quite proud of himself for coming up with the perfect parable. “Birds are most definitely meant to fly.”
Dean returned to watching Caleb, his features expressionless. In the long silence that followed Jim wondered if he had provided the explanation he hoped. “Were you afraid when you let Caleb go?”
The realization that Dean had indeed grasped the concept was overshadowed by the crushing weight of the child’s latest question. “Yes, my boy. I was very, very afraid.” Jim touched the silver ring on his finger, unable to look at Dean or the injured teen. “The way it ended…it hurts me more than I can say.” That Caleb had been attacked was hard enough to endure, that hunters Jim had trusted, indoctrinated into The Brotherhood had been to blame was impossible to bare.
Dean’s brow furrowed. “Do you think God feels bad too?”
Jim cleared his throat. “If anything I understand about him is true, then I would think so.”
“It must be hard for God to set people free.”
“I imagine it pains Him to let each and every one of us go.”
“Then why does he do it?”
“I’m not certain.” Jim gave the boy a watery smile. “But maybe it’s because there’s nothing quite like watching a hawk fly.” The pastor rested his hand on Dean’s head, his mind full of times when the hunters he had ushered into The Brotherhood had made him proud-the promise of great things yet to come. “Do you understand, my boy?”
“I’m glad." Jim braced his hands on his knees, preparing to get Dean off to bed and then sleep until noon. "Now we can all get some rest. It’s well after midnight and…”
“It still doesn’t explain the angels. Are you sure they exist?”
“Of course.” Jim sighed. “But I’m afraid the only proof I can offer you is a little thing called faith.”
Dean favored him with a familiar scowl. “If it’s alright by you, I think I’ll stay right here and keep an eye on Damien.”
Jim realized there would be no sleep for the weary tonight. “How about I make you a deal? You lie down beside Caleb, close your eyes and I’ll keep watch over both of you.” He held up a hand pointing to the ajar door before Dean could utter a protest. “I can see Sammy, too.”
Dean seemed to consider it for a thoughtful moment, a wide yawn precipitating him rising from his chair. He stood in front of Jim, offering the preacher his Swiss army knife like a knight relinquishing his sword. “It’s a deal.”
Jim pocketed the knife, humbled by the boy’s faith. He pulled back the blankets for Dean to climb up on the queen-sized bed. Once the boy was settled, the pastor pulled the covers over Dean, tucking them snugly around him. “I’m glad you still trust me with such an important task.”
Dean folded his hands beneath his head, his eyes fluttering closed. “You’re way better than any angel, Pastor Jim,” he breathed. “You’re our Guardian.”
“Yes, my boy.” Jim leaned forward brushing his fingers through
Dean’s hair. “And someday you will be theirs.”