I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.
Sam saw the flash of blonde hair out of the corner of his eye. He had only cleared the Impala, moving towards Boone and Kathleen’s house flanked by his brother and Caleb when she stepped momentarily from behind a small stand of trees in the distance. He kept his gaze straight ahead as they made their way up the drive, hesitating at the stairs, relieved he was the only one who had noticed.
“You coming?” Dean asked.
“Yeah.” Sam motioned over his shoulder. “I just remembered something I wanted to give Riley. It’s in the car.”
Dean frowned but tossed him the keys. “Make it quick. I don’t want to be here any longer than we have to be.”
Sam nodded. He felt the same way. The plan was to meet with Mac and Bobby and then go from there. Last night had been a blur. Instead of staying at The Boonedocks for Boone’s send off, Sam, Dean, and Caleb had ventured to one of the other local bars in town, then to a motel away from the water. Ruby had in no way been a part of those plans. Sam stiffened at the sound of her voice, glancing over his shoulder as Ruby flagrantly stepped into the open.
“Nice place. I always wanted to live by the beach.”
Sam roughly grabbed her arm and moved them behind cover. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I go where you go. I’m here for your protection.”
Sam snorted. “I can take care of myself." He had to keep this quick or else his absence would garner attention. "I’ll contact you when I’m done with this.” He started to back away.
“Dean’s time is almost up.”
“Don’t go there, Ruby,” he growled. He didn't need to be reminded from someone who had yet to help.
“I can help, if you’ll let me.”
“I told you how you can help.” Sam gripped her arm.
Ruby shook her head. “The knife will do you as about as much good as The Dragon’s Talon will do Caleb. You can’t kill what you can’t see. Hell hounds will only have eyes for your brother.”
“I can’t deal with this now. I need to go.” He released her with a disgusted shove.
Ruby caught his sleeve, halting him. “I have information. It’s important," she added in a singsong voice.
Sam pulled away. “I’m not playing Twenty Questions. I’ll call you when this is over.”
Ruby crossed her arms over her chest, pouting. “Fine, I can't wait to tell you ‘I told you so’.”
“Whatever.” Sam stepped from the tree line, and when he glanced back Ruby was gone.
If Dean noticed he had returned to the house empty-handed, he didn’t say anything. He was too busy salivating over the plate of biscuits, gravy, bacon, sausage, and eggs. He was sitting at the table with Caleb, Ethan, Elijah, Bradley, and Joshua and the impressive spread of food before them.
“We’re having breakfast?” Sam stepped beside his brother. “I thought we were in a hurry.”
“Take a seat, Baby,” Missouri called from across the room. She pointed a spatula at Sam and motioned to the skillet she was holding. “Over easy. Right?”
“Yeah.” Sam frowned. “Dean?”
“Missouri insisted,” Caleb answered.
Sam claimed the chair between his brother and Elijah, who gave him a slight smile. “It didn’t take a lot of convincing on her part.”
“You never know when the next meal might be your last, Professor Matthews,” Dean said, inching the pile of homemade cinnamon rolls closer to his plate. “This beats the M&M’s and Mountain Dew I had planned.”
Sam sighed. The scene was both familiar and completely foreign. Kathleen’s kitchen was warm and bright, but not like Jim’s. Everything was top of the line, shiny, all chrome and granite. The table was enormous, draped with a linen cloth and set for more people than Sam could ever recall dining at the farm. He felt uncomfortable.
“Missouri’s relieved to not be working over an open fire with her cast-iron pots and pans,” Ethan whispered. “Don’t ruin her fun.”
“I heard that, Ethan Matthews. You best watch yourself, Boy.”
Caleb raised a brow at Ethan. “Wonder if that Teflon-coated spoon leaves a mark like her wooden one at home?”
Dean grinned a little too widely around a mouthful of roll. “You really want to find out, Damien?”
“Only if she hits somebody besides me.” Caleb jutted his chin towards Joshua, who was seemingly engrossed in the morning paper. “Like the mama’s boy.”
Joshua lowered The Outer Banks Sentinel. “I have enough manners and sense to refrain from invoking the wrath of the lovely Missouri.”
“You tell him, Baby.” Missouri moved towards the table with Sam’s eggs in one hand. She patted Joshua’s shoulder as she strode by him. She made a point to single Bradley out. “With a large brood like this, one can only hope a couple turn out right. I did my best, and so did Jim, God rest his soul.”
Bradley smiled. “I was an only child up until a year ago. I’m still working out the brother relationship.”
“I’m quite fond of my sibling-free status.” Joshua snapped his paper and hid behind it once more. “Be assured, you’ll miss the solitude.”
“Don’t worry, Josh,” Dean spoke up. “You’ll have a little brother soon enough.”
“Shut up, Dean,” Caleb growled.
Missouri slid the eggs onto Sam’s plate with a favored smile. Her hand went to her hip as she jutted the spatula to Dean and Caleb before swinging it to encompass Ethan. “These three are still a work in progress, so don’t you mind them. Having a large family is usually a blessing.”
“I thought I was your favorite?” Dean replied.
“Dean Winchester, you know I don’t play favorites.”
“I know I’ve never seen Sammy take a blow from the business end of your spoon,” Caleb muttered under his breath. “Even when he deserved it.”
Sam scooted his plate closer to himself, shooting the older psychic a smug grin when Missouri plucked two of the cinnamon rolls from the tray near Dean and placed them in Sam’s reach without further comment. The bad mood Ruby’s surprise visit had left him with was slowly lifting, the odd dynamic easier than Sam imagined.
“Typical baby behavior,” Ethan said, hitching his thumb to his twin. “Gideon and I took the blame for everything. Eli scooted by scot-free.”
“That’s because you and Gideon were always guilty. I was an innocent bystander.”
“You were always right there with us, Bro.”
“As the youngest, I was often coerced and manipulated,” Elijah said.
“Or tricked,” Sam added. “They never told me the whole story.”
Bradley braved the conversation. “Fletcher does seem to have a lot more freedom than I ever did.”
“Don’t buy into this, Bradley.” Caleb leaned forward, pointing a finger at Sam. “He would blackmail us to come along, then sell us down the river for a quick five.” He nudged Dean. “Right?”
“Elbows off the table.” Missouri smacked Caleb’s head as she moved back towards the stove. “And pointing isn’t polite.”
“What?” Caleb rubbed his head. “You point at us all the time.”
“Boy, are you sassing me?” She turned, her dark gaze narrowing. “I thought I told you to take that ratty hat off when you came in this house? You’re getting as bad as Robert Singer.”
Dean reached up and snatched the baseball cap from Caleb’s head, shoving it at him. “Eat your breakfast, Damien.”
“No, sir.” Missouri shook her head. “Not until we’re all seated and grace is said.”
“Dean should do it,” Sam offered, wincing when his brother gave him a sharp kick under the table. It was worth it for the familiar look of utter rebuke. “Pastor Jim gave him lots of practice.”
“That would be lovely, Baby.” Missouri brought over a stack of pancakes and took her seat beside Bradley. “We’ll just wait for the others to come down.”
“Me?” Dean said. “Why do I have to do it?”
“For leading your brother astray.” Missouri plucked a napkin from the table and folded it neatly in her lap, giving Dean a stern look until he grabbed his from the table and followed her lead. “And you have a nice voice when you aren’t talking back to your elders.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” He looked at Caleb, who shrugged.
“I’m sworn to take a bullet for you. This is entirely something else.”
“Some best friend you are.”
Caleb started to defend himself but stopped mid-sentence when Mackland, Esme, Buzz, Bobby, and Kathleen entered the room. Despite the night’s passing, Boone’s widow looked as if she hadn’t slept a wink. Her pretty face was red and swollen, her blue eyes bloodshot. Still, she smiled.
“Please, don’t stop on my account.” Her voice caught slightly, which only dampened the mood further. “Boone loved a noisy house…especially this kitchen. He hated it when Riley moved away and it was just the two of us…” She trailed off, her eyes awash with new tears. Sam looked away to avoid the emotions he was picking up from her, the sensation akin to free-falling into a deep, dark abyss. She was alone now. He couldn’t help but to think of Jessica, of Dean.
“Why don’t you come sit down?” Missouri patted the chair next to her. “I’ve made all your favorites.”
“I’ll put water on for tea,” Esme said. She stepped from Mackland’s side, offering a steadying hand to Kathleen. “Good food and wonderful company will do us all some good.”
Kathleen hesitated. “Riley…I should go up and tell him breakfast is ready.”
“I’ll go.” Bradley stood, placing his napkin on the table. “I knocked on his door earlier to let him know I was coming down.”
“He’s a good boy.” Sam didn’t miss the look Missouri shot Dean. “You might want to take note of that.”
Sam felt better when Bobby, Buzz, and Mackland joined them. Kathleen finally took the seat by Missouri, who reached out and gripped her hand. “Dean’s offered to say the blessing. Is that all right with you?”
Kathleen looked at Dean, her smile trembling ever so slightly. She straightened her shoulders, reaching up to push the loose strands of hair behind her ear. “Boone would have been honored. So am I.”
Sam shared a look with Caleb. Missouri was nothing if not wily. She’d manage to make a point of assuring Dean that no one held him to blame, something neither of them had accomplished last night. His brother looked suddenly uncomfortable as all eyes were on him until Bradley returned.
“He’s not up there.”
“What?” Kathleen stood. “Where is he?”
Bradley shook his head. “I haven’t talked to him since we got in last night. I left him on the boat dock, but he said he was going to turn in. His bed’s still made.”
“Perhaps he’s in the bathroom,” Mackland suggested. “Or out for a walk?”
“I checked the bathroom,” Bradley replied. “And the office where his computer is.”
“I’ve been down here since daybreak,” Missouri said. “I would have known if he’d gone out.”
“Oh, God…” Kathleen had a look Sam could only describe as pure panic. “I have to find him.” She pushed away from the table, a hand going to her chest. “This is why I didn’t want him involved with The Brotherhood. I can’t…”
“Take it easy.” Mackland stood. “He wouldn’t have gone far.” He turned his gaze on Bradley. “Did he say anything to you last night?”
“No. We walked on the beach, talked about Boone. He was still shaken up, but not like at the church.”
Sam looked to his brother, who was frowning. “What about the incident at the bar? He mention any more about wanting to go after the killers?”
Bradley shook his head. “He was upset, but nothing like that.”
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Caleb asked.
Dean glanced to Sam. “It’s what I would have done.”
“What?” Kathleen demanded. “What are you talking about?”
“Dean’s talking about revenge.”
The new voice had everyone turning towards the kitchen door where Ruby stood. Sam’s chest clenched, and it took extreme effort on his part not to jump from his seat.
“What the hell?” Caleb stood, hand going to his side, an easy reach for either the Talon or the holster for his gun.
Dean shot Sam an accusing look before standing, facing off with the demon. “You’re not welcome here.”
“No salt line.” Ruby pointed to the floor in front of her. “I took that as an open invitation.” She strode into the kitchen, sidling next to Sam. It took only seconds for Buzz, the only hunter who didn’t know what Ruby was, to make the connection.
“Why is she here?”
“Who are you?” Kathleen asked, looking from the blond to Buzz. “Is she a hunter? What’s she talking about?”
She looked at Kathleen. “I’m Ruby. Sorry for your loss.” Ruby picked up a piece of bacon from Sam’s plate, taking a casual bite. “And I was speaking about your son. If a bunch of demons took out my old man, I’d be looking to settle a score. A little bird told me Riley feels the same way.”
“No,” Kathleen said. “That’s not my son.” Her gaze sought out Dean. “That was anger and hurt talking earlier. Riley is a child. He’d never consider going out on his own.”
Ruby cut her eyes to Sam. “Can we say ‘denial’? Mommy doesn’t know her baby boy very well.”
Joshua stepped in front of the women, blocking them from Ruby’s sights. “Kathleen, perhaps you can check Riley's computer? Bradley could assist you.” He turned to his mother. “You could also check his room for some clues. Missouri, it would be best for you to help her."
Sam noticed the look of understanding that passed between Esme and her son. She had grown up within the confines of The Brotherhood, linked to The Triad by birthright. Sam wondered how many times in her life she had been ushered out of rooms, sheltered from secret meetings for her own safety.
“Elijah and I will get them started, then canvas the neighborhood,” Ethan offered. He also made a point of placing himself between Ruby and the other women. Sam felt a stab of guilt. He was ultimately responsible for bringing the current threat upon them.
Ruby licked her lips. "Well, aren't you being all Joe — or is it Frank — Hardy?"
"Baby, that's a good idea." Missouri dropped her napkin on the table, coming around to help Esme with Kathleen. “We’ll leave you gentlemen to clean up.” She gave Ruby a disdainful once over. “Make sure to take out the trash when you’re finished.”
Kathleen shook her head. “But Riley…”
Esme gripped her arm. "Sitting around here won't help Riley, Kathleen. You'll feel better doing something."
Buzz waited until the women were out of the room before rounding on Mackland. “What is this? What is that thing doing here?”
“My name is Ruby, and I’m with Sam.”
“It’s not like that.” Sam was quick to explain as Buzz’s angry gaze fell on him. “She’s…”
“She’s been a source of information,” Mackland said. “With the demon situation, we’ve needed someone on the inside.”
Sam felt his throat constrict, his heart rate pick up. He was responsible for putting Mac in a position where he had to take blame and defend The Scholar’s position.
Buzz slammed a meaty fist onto the table, dishes and plates clanking. “She’s a demon — one of the things that murdered my brother! They can’t be trusted.”
“But they can be used,” Bobby said. He eyed Buzz, then flicked his gaze to Ruby. “The situation calls for some blurring of lines. I’ve had dealings with her myself. Left a fucking bad taste in my mouth, but it paid off in the end. None of us have enjoyed it.”
Sam’s palms began to sweat. Bobby was now involved.
“You boys sure do know how to make a girl feel wanted.” Ruby grinned. Sam felt like ripping her head off.
“You’re definitely wanted,” Dean said. “Josh here tells us that you’re number one on the list.”
Ruby raised a brow. “Would that be the best-dressed list?” She ran her thumbs down her jacket. “I definitely deserve a place on that one.”
“I don’t think the covens give a shit about your dress code.” Dean glanced over his shoulder to Joshua. “Their ‘Wanted’ poster doesn’t specify dead or alive.”
Sam was surprised when Ruby laughed. He wasn’t sure if he expected a denial or perhaps an explanation, but he got neither. “Have you been talking about me, Joshua? Betraying a coven trust? Is that any way to treat a sister?”
“You are most definitely no sister of mine.”
Ruby tilted her head, looking around Dean to get a better look at Josh. “Oh, I don’t know. We’re practically twins. Same blond hair, blue eyes…and then there’s the mark.”
“You desecrated that girl’s body?”
Ruby pushed up her sleeve, flashing the double circles and pentagram etched in the interlocking overlap. “I’m loyal to my coven.”
“Your coven has been disbanded for years, their downfall in part due to your sins.”
“Don’t be so high and mighty.” Ruby gestured to Joshua’s side. “Your coven was born from the ashes of my family.”
Mackland cleared his throat. “You still haven’t told us why you are here. Explain.”
“Since you asked so nicely.” Ruby crossed her arms over her chest, shooting Sam a quick look before facing the doctor. “According to the demon hotline, your boy Riley is playing dress-up hunter, taking his RPG role very seriously.”
“If you hurt that boy…” Buzz started around the table, but Bobby caught his arm.
Mackland moved around Dean and Caleb, coming face to face with Ruby. “You’re certain of this?”
“Why tell us?”
“I tried to tell Sam earlier, but it seems he’s a different person when he’s around his hunting buddies, all self-righteous and moral.”
Sam could feel his brother’s burning gaze and kept his eyes glued on Mackland, who was now looking to him. “Samuel?”
“I didn’t know, Mac. I thought she was just screwing with me.”
Ruby shrugged. “Told you so.”
“Where’s my nephew?” Buzz roared.
“You don’t hear so well, do you?” Ruby appeared bored. “He’s hot on the trail of the demons who sliced and diced Daddy.”
Buzz turned fear-filled eyes to Mackland. “If that boy catches up to them, they’ll eat him alive.”
“We’ll find him first,” Dean said. “Nothing’s going to happen to Riley.”
Mackland returned his attention to Ruby. “Where are they heading?”
“That’s anyone’s guess. Rose is unpredictable.”
“Just like Lilith is unpredictable?” Caleb demanded.
Ruby spread her arms open wide. “Read my mind, Reaves. Call your little human lie detector back down here to check me with his psychic polygraph. I’m telling you all I know for now.”
“Why do I find it hard to believe you’re doing anything out of the kindness of your black heart?” Joshua asked.
“Perhaps because you’re cynical and jaded, Joshy.” Ruby flicked her gaze to Sam. “I wanted to help. I only hope it’s not too late.”
Sam grasped the double meaning. Ruby was dangling her proposal to save Dean once again. A part of him warned that her willingness to save Riley was the perfect bait, but another voice whispered that perhaps she really did want to help. “Can you find out anything else?”
Ruby started to open her mouth, but Joshua interrupted. “I won’t work with her.”
“For once, I agree with Josh,” Caleb said. “Maybe we should have a good old fashioned exorcism. Save the coven some trouble.”
“On that hypocritical note,” Ruby glanced to Sam. “I think I’ll be going. It’s obvious I’m not wanted here, and you really don’t want to upset poor Kathleen any further by starting a fight where someone is bound to get hurt.”
“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out,” Dean said. He followed her, and Sam caught his parting words. “And stay the fuck away from my brother.”
Ruby looked over her shoulder, catching Sam’s eye. “It’s your funeral.”
Sam felt momentarily panic stricken. If Ruby did know how to save Dean, it could be their last best chance, and she was gone.
“Caleb, can you sense him?” asked Mackland, trying to get everyone back on track for the moment.
Dean made his way to Caleb’s side as the other psychic closed his eyes. In only a moment, he was shaking his head. “He’s nowhere close by, Dad. I don’t have a strong enough connection to him for anything long distance.”
Mackland exhaled heavily. “Buzz, I need you to find something Riley might have touched recently, something of sentimental value is preferable.”
The big man moved quicker than Sam would have thought possible, his burly steps thudding through the adjoining family room and up the stairs.
“Anybody else getting the feeling a sudden goose chase is damn convenient?” They all turned to Bobby. “This Rose-out-for-revenge thing stinks to high heaven.”
Mackland pulled a chair out and sat down. “Boone was the perfect target to send a message to all the hunters.”
“You would have made a better one,” Joshua said. He took a step back when Caleb swung an angry gaze in his direction. “As unpleasant a thought as it is, the truth remains. The Scholar is the last remaining member of The Triad. Even hunters who don’t wear a ring would understand the significance of that.”
“He could be right, Damien,” Dean said. “If she wanted revenge on us, Mac would have made the better target, or Bobby. Even Missouri makes a hell of lot more sense than Boone.”
“No matter the reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that a very good man is dead.” Mackland ran a hand over his mouth. “Now his son is in jeopardy.”
“He’s studied The Brotherhood since he was a kid. He’ll think he has all the answers,” Dean said.
Caleb nodded. “With all the stuff he’s researched, he might as well have had his own personal ‘how to’ library. The Dummies’ Guide to Hunting will get his ass killed.”
Buzz’s heavy footfalls sounded on the steps and he breathlessly entered the kitchen. “Try this.” He offered Mackland a throwing star. “Boone gave it to him when the kid went through his Ninja phase. Karate was one of the things they did together. His katana’s missing, by the way.”
“Great. Poorly armed and delusional,” Caleb groaned. “A ceremonial sword isn’t going to do him a lot of good with Rose.”
Dean ran a hand through his hair. “This day just keeps getting better.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” Buzz said. “What if we can’t find him?”
“Then we find Rose,” Sam spoke. He was determined to make up for his misjudgment. “As long as we get to her before Riley does, we stop any possibility of an encounter.”
“The runt’s right,” Caleb agreed. “Riley may think he knows every hunting play on the books, but we’ve been in the game for years. Even with the kid’s head start, we should be able to track circles around him.”
“Mac could use the rose brooch she left behind,” Dean said. “Give a good lead to go on.”
Mackland sighed, rubbing his thumb over the steel star. “I would like some peace and quiet so I can focus on Riley for a moment.”
“Outside.” Bobby waved a hand to encompass the younger men. “All of you, move it.”
“Like you’re not a distraction?” Caleb asked.
“I’m taking my breakfast.” Dean grabbed his plate.
Caleb snatched a biscuit and his cap from the table. “We’ll see who’s ordering who around after Mac retires.”
Bobby snorted. “I didn’t take orders from the former Knight, kid. I sure as hell won’t be taking them from you.”
“Bobby, go with them,” Mackland said.
“Please. Call Ethan and Eli back; get everyone ready to move as soon as we have the information we need. I’m going to Riley’s room.”
Buzz sighed. “I’ll go talk to Kathleen.”
Sam watched as everyone went their separate ways, hanging back long enough to catch Joshua on his way out, leaving them alone in the kitchen. “Joshua, wait.”
“You’ve changed your mind about her usefulness?”
“No…I mean, yes. She needs to be handled.”
“I can’t imagine what brought your change of heart on. Would it have been the way in which she so blatantly sashayed into a former hunter’s home with both current and future Triad present, or the sly way in which she implicated not only you but your brother and Caleb by association in her nefarious agenda?”
“I just want to save Dean.”
“I have never doubted the lengths one of you would go to save the other. Obviously Dean’s deal is proof of just what extremes your loyalty will take, but I somehow thought you a little less impetuous when it came to such machinations.”
“I love my brother. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”
“I believe the spectacle today was all the proof one needs of that. Why waste time by telling me what I already know?”
“Can you help?” Sam understood he was involving just one more person in his own agenda to save Dean, but he was certain he could handle the fallout, shielding those he cared about from any repercussions.
“Saving your brother would require going into the black arts: a life for a life – a human sacrifice, but there would still be a connection to something dark. No one would be free and clear."
Sam chewed on the corner of his thumb. "Is that how Ruby meant to help?"
"I don't know. But Sam, the coven won't allow it, and neither will The Brotherhood."
"I am a part of The Triad."
"Not yet, and it makes no difference. You recall what happened to Cole Tanner and Daniel Wilmington?"
"How about if I hand over Ruby?"
Joshua shook his head. "The coven won't reward you, if that's what you're thinking.” He ran a hand over his face. “But perhaps I can offer something, however temporary."
"A week, no guarantees. I need to look into it personally since I won't involve others in the coven. It's complicated, and we'll have to wait until the last minute."
"That's fine. I'll take it.” He was grasping at straws. A week wasn’t a lot of time and would probably lead to him asking Ruby for help. He’d take a week; he’d take anything to save his brother from Hell. To save himself.
Dean leaned against the Impala, closing his eyes briefly as he let the noonday sun soak through his shirt. He was waiting for Sam and the others so they could get on the road. Time was wasting for not only himself, but for Riley, too. He tried to take deep steady breaths, hoping to hold back the sensation of hysteria that had begun to shadow him like a thick fog. Sitting at the breakfast table, although not Jim’s, had brought up old memories, times that would be lost to him soon.
Dean heard laughter, turning to see a couple of boys on bikes ride by on the street parallel to Boone’s place. The neighborhood was small, nestled by the water. He had no problem picturing the life the older hunter had created after leaving The Brotherhood. Boone had given his ring up to offer his family safety, normalcy, and still their sanctuary had been violated. Boone was gone. Soon Dean would join the ranks of the fallen.
“Sam and Josh are on their way.”
Dean jumped slightly, meeting Caleb’s gaze. He forced a smile, his eyes going to the paper bag in his friend’s hand. “Missouri pack us a lunch?”
“She packed Josh and Sam a lunch. This is for Riley, in case he’s hungry when we find him.”
“Ouch.” Dean turned so he was facing the car, strumming his fingers on the roof. “At least she has faith we can find Indy and bring him back in one piece.”
Caleb tossed the bag through the open passenger’s window into the front seat. “About that…”
Dean rested his hands flat against the warm metal. The car always calmed him. “You don’t?”
Caleb propped his hands on his hips, looking towards the sandy dunes behind the Adamses’ home, the ocean barely visible. “I’m not sure we should.”
Dean could clearly hear the squawk of gulls over the surf; certain he’d misunderstood the psychic. “Come again.”
Caleb looked at him, and despite the dark sunglasses Dean knew the man’s body language well enough to know he had indeed heard him correctly. “Five days. That’s all we’ve got.”
Dean bent down to pick up the last of their gear, tossing it into the trunk. He didn’t need Caleb to remind him of his impending doom. Dean caught sight of the Darth Vader bank Riley had given him before their Wyoming trip. “The kid has less than that if we don’t find him.”
“Ethan and Eli are going with Buzz to Maine. Mac got a clear image from the throwing star. What does it matter if we head to Carmine’s?”
“It matters because Mac also got a strong image of the bait shop from that damn rose pendant. That can’t be a coincidence. You know Jim’s connection to that place. We have to cover all the bases.”
“But Sam has a possible lead for you out in Arkansas. Bobby and Josh could —”
“Bobby is going with Ethan, Eli, and Buzz. We’re going to Colorado and that’s final.” He slammed the lid, wanting to give into Caleb's excuses, but hoping one more good deed would help him.
Caleb removed his ball cap, focusing on taking extreme care in reshaping the bill. “That an order?”
Dean folded his arms over his chest. “Does it need to be?”
“You don’t give me orders, Dean.”
“Last time I checked the Hunter’s Handbook, The Guardian has final say.”
“You can’t pull out the make believe rulebook on me, man.”
Dean snorted. “And you can’t pick and choose the parts of brotherhood that you like, Dude.”
“The Knight puts the Guardian’s safety above all else,” Caleb countered.
Dean shook his head. “I wasn’t talking about The Triad.” He kept his eyes locked on Caleb, a part of him wanting to follow the older hunter’s lead and continue their search. Dean didn’t want to die. “My last five days, my decision. I’m going to find Riley, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because I can’t handle having one more person’s blood on my hands.” He felt guilty for using his friend’s unflinching loyalty against him, but the little voice that sounded just like John Winchester urged him on. “I need you to back me up on this.”
“Fine.” Caleb pulled the hat back on, the bill low over his eyes. “I call shotgun because there’s no fucking way I’m riding in the back with Josh the entire way.”
“Knight rides shotgun on all official Triad business.” Dean grinned, thinking of Sam’s earlier secret rendezvous with Ruby. Paybacks were a bitch. “The Scholar gets stuck with the pompous and long-winded Advisor.”
Caleb scratched his chin. “I don’t remember reading that in the handbook.”
“I just made an amendment,” Dean said. “It’s good to be The Guardian.”
Dean smiled to cover the nervousness he felt as he wondered if this was his farewell tour of his life- the farm, The Boonedocks and now Hookers and Flies. He couldn't recall the last time he had been there. He thought it was while Sam was in college. They had gone to Carmine for information on some antiquity at the request of Jim. He wondered now if Jim had thought he was giving them a vacation by sending them to the bait shop or had been trying to keep them on their toes. However, Sam had never had the distinct pleasure of having met or dealt with Carmine Vasquez. The modest shingled structure belied the man inside, but the Harley parked out front did give a hint.
Sam was once again in his usual place in the passenger seat, Caleb having lost an impromptu game of rock-paper-scissors at their last stop. They had barely pulled into the lot when Sam’s eyes left the deceptive store front, pinning Dean with a curious gaze. "So what do you know about this guy? Eli said he’s a bounty hunter on the side?"
Dean was surprised the Matthews brothers had never met the antiquities dealer. Then again, he was beginning to realize just how much he didn’t know about the twins.
Joshua interceded with an answer, showing he had met Carmine. "Funny, I hear he does drag queen beauty shows on the side."
From the rearview mirror Dean saw Caleb elbow Joshua. "Look, Deuce, our little Josh is growing a sense of humor."
"Maybe that coven has stronger magic than we realized. We should have bartered him off a long time ago," Dean commented, happy they were able to start joking about something painful to Joshua. Maybe one day there would be bad jokes about Hell, which he hoped he would be around to hear.
After Dean stopped the car and they exited, he noticed Joshua hadn't joined them. He was still by the Impala. "You coming?"
"I'm going to wait out here," Joshua stated, pointing to the nearby wooded area. "There may be some herbs that I can use. Always good to be proactive."
Dean snorted. Joshua wasn't being proactive, he was being reactive.
Caleb caught Dean's eyes and raised his brows. This was the signal that he had read Sawyer's mind. "Hey, you're losing an opportunity to make a love match. Maybe you could introduce him to Drew."
Joshua shook his head, standing his ground. "Drew only has eyes for you. He's still waiting for your promised date."
"It's lunch." Caleb frowned and started walking back to Joshua. Dean pulled the back of his shirt. "Lunch, Josh, that's all I promised."
Caleb turned around, and Dean patted his shoulder. "You better get that over with soon before Drew blows it up to a weekend getaway to Palm Beach."
"You can't be making enemies with the administrative assistant," Sam laughed.
“You don’t have a dog in this race, Runt.”
“Being sentenced to the backseat gives me an entry.”
“You put your neck in that noose, little brother.” Dean slapped Sam in the stomach as he passed. The never-ending ride with Joshua was only the tip of the iceberg. “Now come meet Carmine.”
The bells hooked above the door tinkled as they entered. Dean smiled at the wave of nostalgia. The original owner of the bait shop had had dark wood paneling. Carmine had spruced it up with a strangely erotic painting on one wall of fish, mermen, and mermaids; even the fish were in provocative positions.
Sam's head was tilted. "Jim was friends with this guy?"
Caleb pointed to the cross on the door behind them. "Looks can be deceiving."
"I'll be out in a minute!"
Carmine knew how to make an entrance. He came through the beaded curtain, short but muscular, wearing blue jeans and a studded leather vest which left his well-honed arms exposed. He started chuckling. "Dean Winchester and Caleb Reaves. It's been a while since you boys graced Casa Vasquez." He reached out a hand to each of them, holding it a bit longer, but nothing unseemly. "And who do we have here?" Carmine purred at Sam.
"My brother, Sam."
"You've been holding out on me. Your father passed on some nice genes." Carmine had extended his hand in a handshake, which Sam accepted, and then placed his other hand on top, patting it.
Dean couldn't look at Caleb for fear he would burst out laughing as he watched his brother carefully extricate his hand from Carmine's tangle. Instead he cleared his throat. "We're not here for a social visit."
Carmine sighed. "You never are." He cleaned off an area on the white and gray swirled counter.
Dean put the pin which Rose had left at Boone's on the cleaned area. "We found this pin. What can you tell us about it?"
Carmine held the brooch in his hand, weighing it, before pulling a jeweler's monocle from around his neck. "I had a break-in a few weeks back. Lost the money from the register and a few pieces of jewelry in hock.” He shrugged. “I remember this — no power to it, so I decided to hang onto it instead of calling Mackland.”
Dean frowned. “Why would you call Mackland if it’s not connected to the supernatural?”
“It dates back to the 1800s and has ties to a hunting family."
"Josh said it was just paste and cheap rhinestones," Caleb said, leaning over the counter.
"Joshua Sawyer?" Carmine dropped the monocle from his eye.
Caleb nodded and moved to the side. "He's waiting for us outside."
"Tell him to come in." Carmine's eyes narrowed while he tried to look around Sam and Dean to the windows. "I haven't seen him since April 11, 2001. Not that I'm counting. . ."
Caleb was heading to the door, and Dean gestured for him to come back. "Joshua is busy looking for some herbs."
"Killjoy," Caleb mumbled under his breath.
"We should focus on the pin," Sam replied.
"You are so right, Sam. Brains and beauty, quite the package." Carmine rested his chin in his hands and batted his eyes at Sam.
Sam took a step back, and Dean put an arm out to restrain him from leaving. "You don’t happen to know the name of that family, do you?" Sam was right: they came for information. Rose had left the pin for a reason, and Carmine could offer some answers.
"I might remember if Sam asks me," Carmine winked.
"Sammy?" Dean raised a brow, watching the blush crawl from his brother's neck to engulf his face.
"Say ‘pretty please’ with dimples and a wink on top," Carmine added, leaning over the counter.
Sam coughed a few times, and Caleb pounded him on the back. "Man up."
"Carmine, I would really appreciate — but no strings attached, please — if you could tell us the name of the family who owned the pin. Please." Sam forced a grin which punctuated his dimples.
"How about breakfast tomorrow?" Carmine was tiptoeing his fingers closer to Sam's hand, which was resting on the counter. Sam moved his hand away.
Dean was enjoying his brother's discomfiture, but didn't want Sam to run out in a panic and sully the brave Winchester name. He also didn't want his last days filled with whining. "Carmine. . .we let you have your fun."
Carmine rolled his eyes, crawled his fingers back to the brooch. "At least I have this pretty back.”
Dean held out his hand. “I think that belongs with the rest of Jim's collection."
“Caleb’s right. You are a killjoy.” Carmine placed it in Dean's hand, then closed Dean's hand around it. “But so damn easy on the eyes.”
Dean squeezed it in his hand, feeling the legacy of the past Triad. Last time they had tangled with Samuel Colt’s Triad, Gideon had been sacrificed and Rose had been involved. He didn't want history to repeat itself.
"Dean, we need to talk. . .outside." Sam gestured to the door, blatantly avoiding eye contact with the gay man.
"He's just shy. I'll put in a good word for you." Caleb winked, and Sam punched him in the arm.
Carmine shook his head and put his hands up. "That's okay, I'm sure I'll get a great view on the way out."
Dean snorted as Sam turned sideways, obviously planning to do some kind of crab walk out the door. "Thanks, man. We appreciate the help."
Carmine gave them a two fingered salute. "Don't wait so long in between visits, and tell Joshua I said hi."
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" Sam said in a loud whisper after they had exited the building.
"And spoil our fun? I think not. Can't wait to use this against Josh," Caleb said, bumping Dean's shoulder.
Caleb's phone chimed the theme from Miami Vice. "This is Ethan," he announced before putting the phone to his ear. "What did you find out?"
The others listened intently to Caleb’s side of the conversation.
"You didn’t find him, but you found his sword? What the hell does that mean?. . .Damn it. What did Mac say?. . .All right, we may have a lead here. Later."
Dean already knew they hadn't found Riley. He wasn't expecting his last few days to be a Club Med vacation, but he had hoped for periods of restfulness with intermittent anxiety. "What did he say?"
"Riley was a no-go in Maine. All they found was an empty house; the package was sitting at the door."
"The package that contained the missing katana?" Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. Joshua was right. They were dealing with a kid who had read their rule book.
"Riley laid a false psychic trail," Sam said as they reached the car. Joshua, who was leaning against the Impala holding some wilted greens, now came closer to them.
"That’s what Buzz thinks," Caleb replied, raking a hand through his hair.
Dean rolled his neck, about to bring Joshua up to speed with what they had learned at Carmine's when his phone went off. The name appeared as ‘unknown’, and he was sorely tempted not to answer it in case it was someone calling to report on Boo’s latest conquest. "Hello?" he started anyway.
“Tick-tock,” the woman said. “I bet you’re feeling more and more like a hell hound’s num-num with each passing minute.”
“Rose.” Dean recognized the intonation and hit the speaker button on his phone, exchanging glances with his brother and Caleb. “You’ve been off the bitch radar lately. What gives?”
“Oh, you know, I’ve just been wiling the time away. It’s a luxury those of us without a looming deadline take for granted.”
“You call to give me a heads-up on my impending visit to your homeland? Thoughtful. I was hoping to make you my personal tour guide. Let’s meet up and discuss the details.” Dean wondered what poor girl the demon had violated this time, who would get a call that their missing daughter, wife, mother had been found dead.
Rose laughed. "Although I would love to talk specifics with you, I called about finding something you seem to have lost."
“Dean?” Riley’s voice was rough but determined. “It’s a trap.”
“He’s so naïve, it’s cute.” Rose reclaimed the line. “I’m not quite sure if he thinks you’re too stupid to realize it’s most definitely a trap or dumb enough to come anyway. I’ve got my money on the latter.”
“He has nothing to do with this," Dean said tightly. He noticed the other men had reacted, too, taking a step closer to the phone.
“Riley’s too smart for his own good. Am I really to blame because he recognized the brooch as one of the items from the Wilmington estate? He sought me out, knew exactly where to find me, which is more than I can say of you and your people. ”
Dean looked at his brother, mouthing the words 'Wilmington estate’. It was Joshua who snapped his fingers and whispered, "Wyoming."
Dean nodded and pressed on with Rose. “What do you want?”
“I assume you destroyed my father's amulet since no one feels its enticing pull any longer. So the next best thing is revenge.”
Caleb started for the phone, but Dean put his hand up. “If you hurt him…”
“Not yet, unless you don't make it to the Wilmington ranch in a timely manner. Then, well, you've seen my work."
They had seen what Rose could do. As Meg she had slit Pastor Jim’s and Moose's throats; as Rose she killed Boone. “We’re in Colorado. It’ll take time…”
“I’ll give you until tomorrow morning." Then the line went dead.
Dean closed his phone and squeezed it tight. He was tempted to throw it, but then he would have to rely on using Sam's phone. "Wilmington estate? What the hell is going on?”
Caleb shook his head. “We need to call Mac. Maybe he knows more about this place.”
“I could contact Carolyn." Joshua pulled out his cell phone. "The Wilmington Triad has become somewhat of a mystery for her. She’s almost as enthusiastic as Riley.”
“Oh, really?” Dean wished his mind didn't go into teasing mode at that moment, but faced with ultimate doom and gloom, it was his natural reaction. He also found a welcome participant with Caleb. “How enthusiastic is she, Josh? Like claws-down-the-back kind of enthusiastic?”
“I didn’t pick up that vibe from her at all," Caleb added.
“Pigs. Both of you," Joshua replied with a scowl.
"Leave him alone." Sam had his phone in the crook of his neck. "I'm calling Mac, and Josh can call Carolyn. You two should talk to Carmine and see what he knows."
"He's your boyfriend."
Carmine hadn’t been helpful on the information front, recounting the story of Daniel Wilmington’s Triad and the subsequent betrayal that led to The Guardian’s and The Knight’s murders. Dean did take his suggestion on a diner and motel close by on the outskirts of Denver. The four hour drive to Stockton, Wyoming allowed them time to regroup and rest up before making their next move, still giving them time to scout out the Wilmington place before Rose’s deadline. Dean took a bite of his country fried steak, ignoring Joshua’s horrified stare. Joshua was probably thinking about dietary concerns, but Dean almost pushed away the plate of cooked meat for entirely different reasons. He should have gotten a salad instead-no burnt flesh there. “So the ranch is still owned by Samuel Colt? How the hell does that work?”
“It’s in trust. Samuel inherited it after Cole and Daniel were killed. He made arrangements that it would never be sold or inhabited.” Sawyer used his napkin to skim around the lip of his coffee mug before taking a drink of the thick brew. “Carolyn was quite excited to discover that the trust was managed by a handpicked line of gentlemen throughout the years.”
Dean grinned, bobbing his eyebrows. “First enthusiastic and now excited?”
“Sounds like you’ve got a wildcat there, Josh,” Caleb said.
Sam pushed his barely touched fries towards the older psychic. “Eat this.” He turned to Joshua. “Members of The Brotherhood, right?”
Joshua nodded. “Yes.” He favored Dean and Caleb with a scowl of disdain before meeting Sam’s gaze once more. “I know they don’t share the brain cells between them, but would you care to fathom a guess who actually owns the ranch now?”
Dean tapped his finger on the table, interrupting before his brother could hazard a guess. “Stop the Geek Games and spill what else your Girl Friday told you.”
Joshua folded his hands around his cup. “Carolyn told me you own the ranch.”
“Damn.” Caleb snorted. “First the farm and now a ranch. You’re practically a land baron, man.”
“Why didn’t Mac say anything when I called him?” Sam said.
“I’m sure he hasn’t exactly had the time to sort through Pastor Jim’s holdings. All of it reverted to Dean upon his death, and as I said, it wasn’t exactly listed as ‘Wilmington Ranch’.”
Dean raked a hand over his mouth. Why did everything come to him in the end? He curled his feet in his boots. He wanted to stay put. “Shit.”
“Why hold on to it all these years and then pass it down through Guardians?”
“Always with the ‘why’, Sammy.” It was a good question, but the least of their worries now. “Carolyn give you anything else?”
“I’m afraid not. As I said, she was shocked that her paper chase led straight to our own backyard.”
“It definitely gives Mac’s theory about Daniel Wilmington’s Triad hiding something there more credibility.”
Dean shoved his food away, his appetite fleeing.
Caleb picked at Sam’s leftover dinner. “So why is Rose leading us there? I doubt she’s bringing you there for a belated housewarming.”
“Then we agree something’s there,” Sam said.
Joshua swirled the last of his coffee around. “Most hunters’ dwellings contain a secret room of sorts, a private realm for their clandestine lifestyle.”
“Like The Tomb at the farm,” Dean said.
Caleb signaled for their check. “Rose studied the journals enough to know about Noah Seaver’s locket, and we know her buddy Ian was after the other items Colt’s Triad supposedly hid.”
Sam looked at the older psychic. “You're saying there's something at the ranch Rose believes Dean as Guardian can offer her access to, like at Sinks Canyon?”
“No.” That didn’t feel right,” Dean said. “She mentioned revenge. I don’t think she’s looking for some trinket.”
“What about Merlin’s Blood?” Sam said. “Bradley and Riley’s B-Bomb theory?”
Dean met his brother’s gaze. He saw the wheels turning. Merlin’s reset switch for The Brotherhood was also said to hold magical properties of immortality. His heart sped up at the prospect, but he was determined to shove his own needs to the background. “Keep your mind on this gig, Sam.”
“I am. If Rose wanted revenge, wiping out the entire Brotherhood would make a hell of a lot of sense.”
Caleb leaned forward. “I think the runt’s on to something.” He moved his arm to the back of the booth, turning his body towards Dean. “She wouldn’t risk herself without the possibility of one hell of a pay off.”
Dean brushed his thumb over the silver ring on his right hand. “She wants me to shut down The Brotherhood.”
“Could you do that?” Caleb asked.
Dean felt the invisible weight on his shoulders increase. He shrugged, trying to remove the feeling of being on a rollercoaster the dips and thrills of seeing no future, worried for himself, others and now The Brotherhood. “How the hell do I know, Damien? You saw what I did in Wyoming. Who knows what else Jim was keeping secret?”
“It’s a possibility we should be prepared for,” Joshua said.
Caleb banged his fist on the table. “We’ll kill her long before it comes to that.”
“I’m guessing that’s where Riley comes into play.” Dean looked to Caleb. “She knows I won’t let her kill that kid.”
“You can’t erase The Brotherhood,” Sam said. “With the demon army loose and Lillith, a setback of that magnitude would be fatal.”
“Panic and chaos would hinder any kind of battle plan The Triad prepared,” Joshua said. “Any gains your Triad has made, any confidence you have inspired would be lost. All eyes are on you after Boone’s very public execution.”
“Thanks for the pressure, Josh,” Caleb said. “I think we all know what’s at stake here.”
“We need the upper hand.” Dean had learned from his father that going in blind was suicide, like following a decoy into a desert of landmines. “We have to let her think we’re playing by her rules.”
“Ruby,” Sam said.
Dean understood Caleb and Joshua’s protests. He agreed wholeheartedly that the demon couldn’t be trusted, once human or not. Ruby was trouble with a capital T, despite her protests that she was on Sam’s side, but she could equal the equation, possibly even tilt the odds in their favor. He cut his gaze to Caleb. “You used a demon when you went up against Rose in Alabama.”
“A demon I could control.”
“It didn’t work that way in the end,” Sam said. “I have a better shot with Ruby.”
“Why? Because she likes you, Runt?”
“I’m not sure I would take that as a vote of confidence,” Joshua said.
Dean held up his hand, cutting off the bickering. He met Sam’s gaze.
They didn’t have a choice. “Call her.”