When The Worst Happens
Dean was resting in the backseat of Caleb's Chevy Suburban. Caleb was driving, keeping an eye on his friend while distracting Ben. They had gone on a simple harpy hunt, and Ben had been a willing student. He begged Dean, then Caleb, to let him come.
Dean hadn't been so convinced. Ben had only been with them a year and Caleb had started training him when Ben said he was interested in being a part of The Brotherhood. He was in charge of training as The Knight. Caleb had bonded with Ben; saw himself in the teen when he came to Mac a little lost.
Caleb backed Ben up, and told Dean it was time his son got some experience, especially with dealing as something as easy as a harpy. He winced as he thought about the conversation.
"You're talking like a father, not The Guardian."
Dean had brushed his fingers through his hair. "Damien, you have no idea what you're talking about."
It was true. Caleb was not a father, but he took his job as uncle and caretaker to the Winchesters seriously. "I'm talking about my nephew. He wants to hunt. He's already come with me to take care of some poltergeists and came back fine. Not a scratch. We have to train them, let them get some experience." By them, he meant eventually Max, JT and James. He knew that Dean had made a deal with Juliet that the boys would be given a choice, and Caleb would not push them either. Yet, it was inevitable they would at least want to have some experience before making a decision.
"I'm not my father," Dean said with a quiet intensity. It had always been Dean's worry to steer clear of the John Winchester style of parenting. Caleb thought that watching Dean with his boys was what his mentor would have been like had the supernatural not touched his life. Dean was proof that despite what he had been through, he could be an exemplary parent.
"I didn't say you were Johnny. I'm not him either." Caleb thought about what he was like as The Knight. There were some lessons he took to heart, but others he had his own spin on. "I hope I'm not."
"I'm not, you're not," Dean added. "I want things to be different for them."
"They already are." They lived in a house they would know all their lives with two parents who were available for their kids. "So I can tell Ben he's coming?" Caleb placed an arm around Dean's shoulder with the contact he could see that he had won The Guardian over.
"Yep, he's coming." Dean shook his head. "Tell your buddy, my son, that I'm not always going to be a pushover."
Now Caleb drove with regrets about his leniency. The glow of the street light hit Ben's pale face echoing the mistake Caleb had made. This teen was so different from the teen a day ago. That Ben, usually self–contained, was excited with a sudden talkative nature. This Ben, with his continuing glances to the backseat, was hollow and scared.
"Dad?" Ben's voice cracked with tiredness and emotions.
Caleb was going to answer, but Dean rallied, forgoing his pain and tiredness. "Ben, I'm fine. Jus' resting."
"I'm sorry." Ben shifted in his seat as much as the seatbelt would allow facing his father.
Dean's upper body was propped up, but he moved further up with an arm around his ribs. "You've got to stop apologizing. You did nothing wrong. You did Caleb and me a favor. Right?" The last word came out with a hint of a groan attached to it.
"Sure, you drew her out so we could take her down." Caleb helped Dean take the blame away from Ben. It was not his fault at all.
Ben bowed his head. "I froze."
"You had never seen a harpy before," Caleb explained, forgetting that depictions of the creatures were not the same as seeing them in person. Poltergeists still looked like a person so in assuming that poltergeist hunts were the same as hunting other supernatural beings he had set Ben to fail.
"Fugly," Dean added.
"But you got hurt saving me." Ben's voice sounded like he was restraining himself from crying.
Dean tried to diffuse the situation with some humor. "Yeah, I wish it had been Damien too."
The harpy with its long, light colored, nappy hair had a human female torso covered in feathers. It was the large, molted wings and sharp claws that were the greatest threat. The harpy saw Ben in the clearing and came right at him. It was at this point that Ben was supposed to shoot it with the iron rod. That didn't happen. Dean ran out to tackle his son, and ended up being picked up by the harpy instead. She carried him up, and Caleb had a moment to decide to shoot to risk his friend's fall to the ground or find another solution. His other solution of breaking cover worked better, but did not save Dean from injury. "Me too."
Dean slid his body forward over the leather seats and stuck his hand through the front seat area of the SUV. His hand rested on his son's shoulder. "This line of work is dangerous. You need to understand that, Ben. If you don't want to be involved, you don't have to be."
"I know, Dad." It was a noncommittal answer.
The car was quiet again as Dean rested back into his position in the backseat. Dean was not initiating conversation because this time he truly was asleep, not just closing his eyes with the pain medication and trauma sapping him.
Caleb stretched his senses to Ben. The teen was undecided on whether he wanted to pursue being a hunter. He wanted to impress his father, connect to him, but he also wanted to be a doctor for his mom.
"He means what he said. He won't stop loving you if you don't want to do this anymore." Caleb wanted to provide Ben with some assurances of his father's sincerity.
Ben shook his head. "You're helping people. I want to do that. I was just –"
"Scared." Caleb filled in the blank for his nephew. "I am too. You would have to be crazy not to be scared of all this." Caleb waved his hand, then caught the blood stain on his cuff. He hadn't washed it all out.
"Dad isn't scared."
What Ben saw was his father's adaptability to a situation. He had to learn that as a kid and as an adult it was a good trait, but one that in his son's eyes made him look fearless. "Of course he is. He has a lot more to be scared about now."
The car came to a stop as close to the front door as Caleb could get without taking out the flower beds.
Dean awoke with a groan as he noticed the lack of motion.
"Go open the door. We'll be there in a minute," Caleb ordered Ben, wanting to give Dean some time to focus and manage the pain.
Ben hesitated. "I can help. I think you need help."
"Son, we're fine. Go open the door and try not to wake everyone up." Dean gave his son a nod in the darkness of the vehicle.
"Okay. I'll be right back." Ben caught the door before it slammed and gave it a ginger shove until it clicked shut.
Caleb opened the backdoor, the overhead light shined down on Dean accentuating his pale skin and the blueness of the scrub top the hospital had given him after the destruction of his shirt.
"Thanks, man. Give me a hand." Dean reached his hand out, which Caleb grasped.
With a heave Caleb got Dean on his feet and placed an arm around his back to brace his friend. "He's worried about you."
"I know." Dean swallowed. "First time the kid has seen me banged up." They made their way to the door in halting steps.
"Dude, you are not 'banged up.' We went to the ER." The wounds were something Caleb could have handled, but he had been worried about the concussion. Ben was also a concern. He wanted his father to go to a hospital to allay his fears.
"But I wasn't admitted." Dean huffed.
"Because you begged them not to." Dean should have remained in the hospital, but Caleb read his mind and Ben's to know that it would be detrimental to Dean's family. If he stayed in the hospital every time he was injured then they would be worried. They would also have a fear when he left home to hunt. There was enough of that already from Juliet. Dean mentioned to Caleb that Juliet slept with one of his shirts when he was gone. "Cried like a baby until I said that you would be well taken care of."
"Cried like a baby?" Ben repeated as he waited for them on the porch, overhearing their conversation.
"Ben, just hold the door open." Ben literally leaped to the door and opened it for his father and Caleb. "Thanks, Dude." Dean patted the top of Ben's head.
"I can wake up Juliet if you want?" Ben hovered nearby, moving ahead to clear any encumbrances. There were none between the door and the kitchen, just an errant shoe belonging to JT.
"Let her sleep, Ben. I'll see her in the morning. Why don't you get cleaned up and call it a night, too?" Dean was keeping his voice soft and reassuring. It was so unlike John who was prickly when hurt.
The kid looked beat, but still was hesitant to tear himself away from his father. He had already lost a mother, could not risk another parent. Ben moved his gaze to Caleb. "Are you staying here?"
Again Ben reminded Caleb of himself, checking to make sure his family, the people he cared about that cared about him are intact. "Yes, Ace, I'll watch over your old man."
They watched Ben climb the stairs. Dean rested his head against his fist in tiredness.
Dean lifted a finger to his mouth then pointed up.
They would need to be quiet for awhile to make sure Ben had truly gone to bed. They waited until the toilet flushed, then the creek of wood that Ben was making his way down the hallway. All the time Caleb listened and watched Dean who didn't move from his perch resting at the kitchen table.
"Damien, I am not making it up those stairs tonight."
In the past Dean would never admit he was hurt. In the present there were too many people to out maneuver. "What about Juliet?" She was not involved in The Brotherhood, but she would notice Dean's lack of presence when she had been expecting him home. Caleb thought she should have known about the hospital visit, but Dean ordered him not to call her with useless worrying.
"She'll be downstairs in a minute," his friend answered.
Caleb scoffed. Ben had made the most noise, but that would be considered normal in house. "I am as quiet as a ninja."
"Not to her." Dean pointed to his ears. "She has mom ears."
"Guest bedroom?" Caleb suggested the room on the first floor towards the back of the house.
"Yeah," Dean replied, but did not move until Caleb hoisted him back to his feet. Once they got into the room, Dean sat on the edge of the bed blinking owlishly as sleep began to pull him.
"I'll take the couch," Caleb announced at the same time he sensed Juliet's presence behind him.
"You can take our room." Juliet, wearing a short, fluffy, pink bathrobe that came to her knees, dark hair pulled up in a ponytail on the top of her head. Her gaze was focused on Dean. In her eyes there was a flickering of many emotions. Caleb made a promise to Juliet long ago that he would respect her privacy, and not read her.
"Does James wake up during the night?" James was only a year old. At first with Max, Sammy had been his reference point to babies. However, with Max, JT and James things were different. They had a mother so an uncle could just be an uncle and avoid diaper changes and feedings.
"No." The question momentarily distracted Juliet who was standing over Dean with her hand on his head. Dean was leaning into the touch.
It was a moment between the couple that required privacy. Caleb extricated himself, knowing his thoughts would keep him up for awhile. He would check on Ben first before attempting to find some rest. "See you in the morning."
Rest would be hard in coming. Caleb was already thinking, Monday morning quarterbacking, what he could have done differently. He had not done that with the other hunters he had trained. Other hunters hadn't had the same connection. They were also older like Bradley and Riley, already in their twenties when their interest grew.
As a Knight John had been about pushing his apprentice no matter that he was young. He did the same with his sons, but for Caleb it was going to have to be different. He became gun shy when he saw the aftermath of the risk. He was going to be careful with the younger generation.
When Dean woke up it was to another's presence in the room. With the intake of air his body was slowly catching up with alarms of pain and stiffness. He shifted up. Sitting, staring at him intently was JT, unnaturally still for a boy his age. Juliet allowed JT to use the guest bedroom on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons because he tended to wake up earlier, and both of them valued being able to sleep in on occasion.
JT was unblinking with fear in his eyes. Dean's bruises must have bloomed spectacularly on his torso. The sheet had slipped down during the night. Dean did not want to break eye contact with his son, but moved the sheet back into place so it covered the bandages and bruises.
"Juliet, we have company."
Juliet turned over from where she was sleeping on her side. "Come here, Big Guy."
JT shook his head, still no sound. Juliet sat up and picked JT up. "Here, honey, you can take my place right there." She set him down where she had been sleeping.
Dean was hoping Juliet would deal with their son and let him find some peace. "Where are you going?" he whispered. Juliet looked like she could still use some sleep, too.
"I'm going to check on the baby." She squeezed his foot. "Don't worry about me. Do you need anything?"
"Some water?" As he talked more he noticed that his throat was dry and filled with the metallic taste of blood.
"Okay, go back to sleep." She crept out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Dean turned his head to see JT was still staring at him. He understood what Juliet was doing. Only he would be able to help his son remove the scared expression. There were many times Dean compared himself to his father. Dean had done exactly what JT was doing to his father when he was young. He was worried about his parent, the only one he had. Dean could kid himself and think that if something happened to him at least they would have Juliet, but to a child that was not enough. Dean gestured for JT to move closer to him. "You won't hurt me. I promise."
JT seemed to think about this for a moment, and scooted next to Dean's arm, thankfully not the one the harpy had clawed into as deeply.
"Do you want to watch cartoons?" Dean said with a yawn, trying the tactic of treating this like any other day instead of the day he came home noticeably physically hurt.
JT shook his head into Dean's arm. Dean moved his arm so it was wrapped around JT's shoulders. "It's okay. Please don't be scared."
He remembered that ferocious emotion and carried it with him. He needed to tell his son he understood. He could not explain to JT how his father had returned to help him, even though he had to rise from Hell to do so. Then there was his angel's experience. He thought about mimicking his mother and telling his son that angels were watching over him. Those concepts were too sophisticated for a child. Dean wanted JT to accept the other meaning- he would always physically be there. He would always come back for his children. "I'm not going to leave you, ever."
They remained in the quietness and fell asleep.
The next time Dean awoke it was to activity in the house. There was a soft knock on the door, which jolted JT awake. "Hey, hey, you're with Daddy," he soothed. "Come in."
Ben entered with his dark hair sticking up, boxer shorts and old, worn t-shirt proclaiming him as taking part in a hike. "Dad, how are you? Are you okay?"
Dean sighed, scooted up and JT did the same, but without putting any weight on his father.
"What's JT doing here?"
"He came in to watch cartoons, but ended up falling asleep." Dean gave the short explanation. Dean gave a quick glance to the alarm clock. "I think we missed a few, but we can still catch some of them. You want to join us?"
Ben wrinkled his forehead. "Cartoons? No. Shouldn't you be resting? You're hurt. We went to the hospital. . ."
His older son was panicking, seemingly reliving the time with his mother being sick and needed hospitalization. JT moved his knees up and wrapped his arms around them as if to protect himself. "Ace, calm down. Have a seat."
Dean moved forward and although it was a painful movement he rubbed his son's back for a moment until he calmed down. "Dude, talk to me. What are you thinking about?"
"Mom, my mom."
Dean went back to his position of having the headboard support him. He pulled JT closer and kissed the top of his head. "This isn't like that, Ben. I'm going to get better. I am better already. This stuff happens, it's a dangerous gig. I told you that."
Ben sniffed and wiped under his nose with his hand. "I didn't think when I saw the . . ., then you were hurt and I can't lose you, too."
"I promise you aren't going to lose me," Dean said it with ease, but there was a tsunami of worry waiting to crash through with the expectation he had set. "But, I'm still going to hunt, and this might happen again."
Ben nodded. Dean was grateful his son hadn't asked him to give it all up. His son surprised him by giving him a hug. JT wanted to be a part of it, too and hugged his father's side. It was at that total chick-flick, Winchester men moment that Caleb entered.
"Maybe next time you want to tell me that James Murphy Winchester wakes up at God's hour." Caleb was thankfully ignoring the emotions in the room.
Baby James waved his hand. "Dada!" He pushed at Caleb. "Down!"
"You didn't ask that question," Dean explained. He usually got up with James in the morning to allow Juliet some sleeping in time or James came into their room.
"The kid's hard to entertain. I thought about showing him the magazines that are still hiding in Ben's room," Caleb said as he placed James on the bed and he made his way over to Dean.
Ben pinked up at the embarrassment, but didn't comment on the stash of old Playboys. He tried to block James's wobbly walk on the bed. "What if he moves and hurts you."
The comment had JT reacting too, and holding out his arms for James to come to him.
Dean gently put JT's hands down. "Ben, I'm not incapacitated. I can outmaneuver a 1 year old."
James stopped halfway and sat by Dean's legs. "Go play?"
Dean noticed that Caleb watched the exchange and lifted his eyebrows. Caleb cleared his throat. "Like I told you last night-nothing is going to happen to your dad on my watch. I didn't put up with all this shit this long to not have him go through your teen years, and your brothers."
"Shit," James repeated.
Caleb rubbed a hand down his face. "No one say anything. Just ignore it." Caleb turned to Ben, reaching out and placing a hand on Dean's eldest shoulder. "I don't want you to lose faith-in me, in your dad and uncle, in The Brotherhood."
Ben nodded. His emotions were so evident to Dean, like Caleb he was afraid to lose what he had gained. He was glad Caleb was close to Ben. His older son seemed to talk to Caleb on the limited subjects he did not want to breach with Dean.
"Shit," James said to the nervous room.
"What happens in this room stays in this room. Got it?" Caleb looked at all the Winchester men.
Dean smothered a laugh. They would rat him out to save themselves if scrutinized by Juliet.
"I was sent in to tell you that breakfast is ready. Juliet made special waffles." Caleb lifted his arms out to James, who always wanted to be carried around. James crawled to his uncle and was scooped up. "Come on JT. I'll give you a piggyback ride. Climb on."
JT shook his head.
"That's okay, Damien." Dean placed a hand on top of JT's blond head. "We'll be there in a minute."
"You're coming out for breakfast?" Caleb asked with doubt.
Dean wanted to stay in bed, but with an audience that was impossible. Back in the day he could bunker down in a hotel room and lick his wounds, but those days were long gone. "I'll be out in a minute." He needed to heed nature's call. It would be a slow process.
Caleb seemed to have figured it out. They had been injured so much in the past; they understood the aches and pains of the next day were worse than the trauma of the original injury. "Ben, take your brother. I'll wait with JT."
Ben took James and carried him out, but not without looking back.
"Save me some waffles, especially the chocolate chip ones," Dean said to get his son to leave the room feeling reassured and normal.
"You need some help old man?" Caleb held out his hand by the side of the bed.
Dean wasn't just ready to move that much. "I need a Vic- an aspirin is what I need." He wanted the hard drugs, but with a set of little ears lingering, and Caleb's mistake earlier, he didn't think it was wise to add any more new words.
"Here." Caleb put a pill in his hand. "Juliet sent me in with them."
A glass of water was on the nightstand, left by Juliet. "That's my woman." Dean swallowed the pills, chasing it down with the water, which he finished. He remained where he was, JT still by his side to let the medication take some effect.
"Sam called," Caleb said with a wry expression.
"Did you tell him?" Dean almost did not want his brother to know, but they had promised no more secrets.
Caleb gave a quick nod of the head. "That would be an affirmative."
"And?" Dean was already wincing at Sam's reaction.
Caleb placed his fist over his mouth, then let it drop. "He thinks that only hunters without families should be in the field."
Dean shook his head. Sam was protective of Dean's family unit, wanting Dean to have everything he deserved as Sam had once said. What his brother wanted now was impossible. They all had families. "That would leave us a bit shorthanded."
"He's researching it." Caleb shrugged.
His brother would not let an idea go once it was formed. The dogged determination was great for a lawyer and Scholar, but hard for Dean to live up to. "Doesn't he have enough to do?"
"This is you were talking about. He'll be here this afternoon."
Dean was not going to stop Sam while he was in motion. He would have to prepare for his brother's visit, foist the kids on him for awhile. He put out his arm for Caleb to hoist him up to standing as the Vicodin had taken effect.
When Caleb was confident Dean was going to remain standing he released him. "Hit the head, then you can make it slowly to the kitchen. I'll wait with my man, JT."
JT was still silent. Dean did a half turn, enough that he had to suppress a groan from his protesting muscles. "Hey Buddy; I'm just going right there." He gestured to the bathroom.
"Your dad's going to be fine." Caleb sat down on the bed with his hand. "Just a few scrapes, like your knee. How did it happen?"
Dean went into the bathroom, leaving it slightly open. He could hear the one sided conversation.
"Do you want to go swimming today?"
"How about going to the park?"
"Have a water balloon fight with Ben and Uncle Sam?"
Caleb was freaking out at JT's silence. Dean had a toothbrush in his mouth, and moved it to talk. "Dude, calm down." When Caleb did not answer he made the clarification, "I'm talking to you, Damien. It's not like when I was a kid."
He rinsed his mouth, trying to rid himself of the moldy taste in his mouth. Juliet had also left a pair of sweat pants and a plaid, button down shirt. All clothes were easy to get in and out of. He hunched over to ease his ribs and made his way to the bathroom door. Caleb looked desperate for interaction with his young nephew, drawing a face on his hand and pretending it could talk.
"Maybe JT will draw you a picture? He made a picture of a mouse a couple of days ago at school." Dean suggested.
JT frowned at his father. He opened his mouth, then closed it, surveying his father once more before talking. "It was not a mouse. It was a rabbit, Daddy."
Dean knew JT could not resist defending his pictures, especially when animals were involved. The youngster liked to correct his father. When Ben arrived, then soon after James, JT hadn't complained, but there was a distinct loss of attention. It culminated in an incident where JT was missing for two hours, found sleeping in Dean's shored boat. Dean made it a point to be a part of his son's interests. As of now it was drawing, but T-ball was coming up soon. "It had long ears?"
"Uncle Caleb likes to draw pictures, too," Dean prompted. He always looked for some shared trait with his children in order to relate to them. He wanted them to be parallels to them, but without the drama, more laughter less upsets. Their lives were already so different than his.
"I can draw you some more dragons." Caleb liked to reminisce with Dean's children, and Max to connect them together. The dragons had been so important to Caleb, Dean and Sam, and Caleb wanted them to be important to Ben, JT and James.
"Can you draw one for Daddy, too?" JT asked because Dean was the one JT wanted to have feel better. Even as a toddler JT showed empathy for others.
"Sure, Kiddo." Caleb ruffled the boy's hair with a big grin. "Can you help me with it?"
JT gave his uncle a hug as a response. Caleb was a little surprised, and put his arms around JT.
"So does that piggyback ride sound like a good idea now?' Caleb suggested, shifting JT so he was holding onto Caleb's back.
It sounded like a great idea to Dean. He wouldn't be able to pickup his little men for awhile. JT reached out, and grabbed a fistful of Dean's button down to stay connected to his father. His smile was tentative; Dean could still see the fear.
Dean put his hand on top of his son's. "I'm here."
They remained in the guest room. Caleb turned to face Dean. "I'm sorry; this is harder than I thought."
Dean smiled because having children had seemed to natural and effortless. Juliet and he were lucky since they had so much assistance. Being a hunter, having children with a future as hunters, hadn't been an issue until now. "This changes everything. I don't know how Dad did it." That wasn't the truth. He knew how his father was able to hunt. He had Dean taking care of Sam, and the hunt was an obsession to the detriment of family life. There had to be a balance. "What if the harpy had gotten a hold of Ben?" Dean squeezed JT's hand, wondering what JT would be like at Ben's age.
"We're not going to let anything happen to them." Caleb placed his hand on top of Dean's, covering JT's hand in totality in a solemn promise. "They'll be protected."
No son of his was going to be after a poltergeist at ten years old, so filled with fear of being alone to thwart the supernatural. Whatever needed to be taught would be done in a controlled environment with supervision. "We'll do it differently."
Caleb nodded, then gave a horse-like whiny that made JT smile.