By: Ridley

Beta: Tidia



'Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…'- Ephesians 6:11

John Winchester winced at the banging of the kitchen door, bringing his hand up to rub tired eyes. His throat hurt from yelling. He wanted nothing more than to grab a cup of coffee and a pint of Johnny Walker Red. The drink would help bolster him for what was to come, shore up his defenses, dull his senses so he could deal with the inevitable fallout. It was tempting, but he ignored the call to typical arms, going in without his usual shield.

John was first and foremost a soldier. Soldiers had always been concerned with protecting themselves in battle. It was second nature, as necessary as breathing.

For centuries, men had donned all sorts of contraptions to spare themselves the mortal blow, determined not to be felled, chainmail and iron plates in the medieval era to Kevlar in present day. Warriors had to survive if they were to fight another day, complete their mission. John Winchester's mission was that the people he loved keep breathing.

He had always been a defender. From star cornerback of his high school football team to decorated soldier, he knew how to protect the things that were important, to fight for what he believed in. Little did he know his years on the field would set him up for the unrelenting war his life would become, where every day dawned a new battle and villains appeared out of thin air.

"That went well."

The snide comment hit like sniper fire when he entered the living room. His youngest son was anxious to draw first blood in the most recent skirmish. "Stay out of it, Sam." What went on between John and Caleb was his business alone. He didn't need commentary from a child. The thirteen year old was blocking his way. John maneuvered around him and the wagging Black Lab at his side.

"You shouldn't have let Dean go on that hunt, Dad."

"Not your call, Sammy." Sam was full of opinions today. John maintained his guard; let the words ricochet off him. He kept moving to the stairs.

"It's Sam." Since reaching the status of teenager, his son had decided that his name was to forever to remain one syllable. It did not go unnoticed by John that Mackland and Jim still got away with the occasional Samuel. Sam offered no such favor to his old man these days.

"Still none of your damn business, Sam." John slowly climbed each step, feeling his age setting in with each crack of his knees, the knotted pull in his lower back. He really was too tired to go toe to toe with anyone else.

"Dean's my brother!"

"I'm aware," John called over his shoulder, recalling he had said that same thing to Sam in an argument last week at least three times for good measure. Dean is your brother. I'm your father. We are your family. That's why, Sam. That's fucking why.

"You're supposed to watch out for him. This is your fault."

The precisely aimed shot struck home. John hesitated, gripping the handrail as he turned around. No mightier sword than the truth to knock you on your ass. "Your brother was with Caleb. It wasn't like I sent him on a hunt alone."

Sam folded his arms over his chest; a disappointed scowl John was quickly growing accustomed to receiving deeply forged his son's face. "Caleb's not his dad. You are."

"I can't be in two places at once," he hissed. John had responsibilities, a quest to fulfill. It pissed him off he was justifying himself to a child, especially his own child, but here he was. He wasn't surprised when Sam wasn't appeased. He couldn't exactly expect the kid to swallow something that rang hollow with him down deep inside. John hated he couldn't split himself in half and shadow his children, at some point he was forced to let them go solo.

"I thought family always came first."

John gritted his teeth. It seemed Sam not only remembered their previous argument, but was using it against him. He should have had the damn drink. John was too sober, too tired to have his words tossed back at him like hand grenades. It was a skill Sam was fine tuning.

"You're brother is seventeen! He wants to be a hunter. He went on a hunt he found, researched and planned. It went bad. End of story." Scout cowered at his raised voice, her ears flattening against her head as she leaned closer to Sam.

"He doesn't even have a ring yet! What happened to The Knight protecting all hunters? Can't you at least get that right?"

"Apparently not." Knightly duties were beginning to adversely conflict with fatherly duties. John ignored his first impulse, which was to stomp back down the stairs and take his frustration out on his disrespectful teenager. He didn't trust his frayed nerves, his temper already taxed. Mac was always telling him to choose his battles wisely. He should take deep breaths; count to ten-better yet remove himself from the situation. John already had one injured son. He turned and started back up the stairs. "I'm going to check on your brother."

"Better late than never," Sam muttered. John caught the comment, heard the squeak of the couch as Sam slumped against it. He prayed to Mary for patience, that he would let Sam live to see fourteen. Scout whined to show her displeasure at all the unrest the evening had brought. John didn't blame her. He wasn't too fucking pleased either. The farm was usually peaceful, a tranquil port in the storm. They often blew in with hurricane gale force. Sometimes he wondered why Jim kept asking them back-why he ever invited them in the first place. John understood all too well why he had heeded the Guardian's call.

Assuming the role of The Knight in The Brotherhood might have appeared a natural transition for a man with his experience, but it had never been a calculated goal, nor was it ever truly a welcomed accolade. Even now it was another duty John endured, a role he filled for the higher purpose of protecting his family. He could admit he was suited for the position, well-deserving of it if merit was based on sheer will and protective instincts alone. John was fierce, relentless. The enemy would be forced to pry sword and shield from his cold, dead hands to get to the people he loved, the men he led. He left the other attributes of noble purpose, chivalry and selfless service to candidates like his protégé.

Naïve notions were not lost on Caleb Reaves, who embraced all aspects of knighthood with fervor. John took secret pride in the fact that although he suspected he was most definitely not what Merlin imagined when he created the position of Knight in The Triad; his successor was the complete embodiment. The kid was going to surpass him one day, make John look like the sham he was, a squire masquerading behind Jim Murphy's coat of arms.

That was okay. Sun Tzu believed the pupil should master the teacher and Caleb would. He just had some things to learn first, one particular lesson John had delayed imparting for his own selfish reasons.

"Jim?" John took a step into the bedroom he had been shuffled from nearly an hour before. The need for word on his son overshadowed any obligation he felt for following doctor's orders. Mackland Ames and his beast of a bedside manner held little power over him. The psychic's telekinesis was a different story, but John had long since learned his friend's tongue was his scariest weapon, one he could completely deflect by silently recanting the Sox's last season's batting averages.

"Johnathan." The Guardian looked up from his position by the bed where he was assisting The Scholar in patching up Dean. John noticed the open Bible on the nightstand, the smiling portrait of Miss Emma in her wedding dress. Grief stole his breath. His eyes went to Dean, but his thoughts were suddenly consumed by images of his own lost wife. "Is everything alright?" Jim's voice gentled, the way it did when he was talking to a spooked horse, or a ruffled parishioner.

John cleared his throat, bringing his mind back to the present though his fingers subconsciously sought out the gold band around his finger. He accepted the pastor's question and tone as a sign it was safe to enter. "How's it going?"

"Where's Caleb?" Mac spoke without looking up from his patient.

"Around," John circumvented The Scholar, knowing better than to invade Mac's space when he was suturing, especially when his friend was pissed at him. They had more than likely heard his and Caleb's argument, at least John's yelling. He walked around Jim's side of the bed, laying the back of his hand against Dean's face, thankful for the cool skin that greeted him but upset by the pinched lines of pain present even in sleep.

"We heard your discussion." Jim's face showed his disapproval, his mutual alignment with The Scholar. The pastor's eyes went from Dean's lax features to John's face where his cornflower blue gaze frosted over to icy steel. "Including our patient, who wrongly believed himself the cause for all the shouting."

"I'll smooth things over before Ace wakes up. His best buddy will be here for bedside duty." The argument justified or not was really none of their damn business. John was the one out in the field training soldiers. Jim had made that choice. Mackland had signed on board when he agreed Caleb would be in consideration to succeed John.

"I think the sooner you get on with the smoothing over the better," Jim's kindly suggestions were often poorly veiled commands. John wasn't sure why he bothered with pretense. Maybe he thought it the Christian thing to do, or maybe it was just more fun bossing people around with a smile on your face.

"If Mackland was generous with the good stuff, Ace is likely not to remember mine and Caleb's shouting match." John turned his gaze back to his sleeping son. The pastor's king sized bed seemed to dwarf Dean. It made him look much too small, vulnerable. Tiny yellow daisies dotted the sheets; Dean's torn and bloodied shirt creating a disturbing juxtapose. John focused on the fact his son's breath was slow and even. He let his hand slide over his boy's short hair before removing his touch completely.

"Perhaps you were planning on my administering some pain killers to Caleb also."

John folded his arms over his chest, blowing a heavy sigh. Mackland felt no need to be kind. "Junior's a big boy. He can handle some hurt feelings and if he can't maybe I need to climb up his ass a little more often." Even as he said it, John knew it wasn't exactly true. That was part of the problem, a piece of that missing wisdom he had yet to impart. Caleb wasn't very skilled at protecting himself from some of the stealthier enemies of the job. John had left him defenseless for a reason.

Using a sword or a gun was a skill that could be taught with repetition and practice. Instincts could be honed, rough edges polished through discipline and drills. Some facets of forging a good soldier were harder, requiring a heavier hand, a more calculating design. Kid gloves didn't cut it. John was guilty of using his own sons as props in that valuable lesson, but he had not been prepared for Caleb to stumble into a teachable moment on his own, or that Dean would become ensnared in the event.

"I'm doing my best to take care of Dean," Mac's voice remained calm and quiet, commanding more attention for its casual delivery. His fingers never stopped moving over the deep gash on his patient's side. "I have every expectation that you will respond in kind."

"You know me well enough." John felt the tendrils of anger inching their way from that fiery pit of rage that continuously bubbled in his gut like lava. He treated Caleb like he did his own boys. He might have molded the kid to his advantage, but it didn't mean he didn't have feelings for his protégé. Just the opposite in fact, and Mackland was out of line by insinuating anything different. John tried to remember that for all his knowledge, Mackland Ames had only basic understanding of what a soldier's life was like. He used the sight of the doctor's blood covered gloves to douse the flare of irritation, starting a slow silent count to ten.

"I do know you." Mac stopped stitching, hesitating just for a moment. He didn't look at John, instead his eyes moved to Dean's face. John watched The Scholar's indifferent mask of doctor slip off like a surgical mask before he gave a slight shake of his head, continuing on with his task. His friend might not have been a soldier at heart, but Mac's mission was the same as John's.

"Right." Mac's declaration did not exactly inspire confidence, but it was as good as John was going to get, maybe a little more than he deserved seeing as how he really had no idea where Caleb had gone, the fact he hadn't heard the kid's Jeep start up the only inclination his protégé hadn't taken off. John knew when to cut his losses, make a well-timed retreat. He touched Dean's head once more, then took his leave. His reception when he returned to the living room wasn't much warmer than the one he'd received from his Triad.

"How is he?" Sam shifted on the couch, dropping the book he was reading as he sat up. Scout sighed, disrupted from her nap.

"He'll be fine, Sammy. Mac and Jim are almost finished."

Some of the fear faded from Sam's accusing eyes. "You sure he's going to be okay?"

"A sling, some of Mac's fancy sutures and he'll be as good as new." John rubbed a hand over his beard. They were lucky.

"Can I see him?"

Sam's long arms and legs made lifting himself from the couch look like a baby giraffe's first attempt at standing. John wondered at how a child could one day be small enough to shield in your arms, and the next be tall enough to look you square in the eye. It was easy to forget Sam was still a little boy, struggling to grow into his own, especially when he opened his mouth. "You really should get some sleep, Kiddo."

"I'm waiting on Caleb." Sam looked longingly towards the door.

"He's not come back in yet?" If John didn't know his student so well he might have been worried. Caleb would not leave until he was certain Dean was in the clear.

"He won't until Dean's awake." Sam echoed his thoughts.

John supposed the Irish coffee would have to wait a bit longer. "Then I'll just have to go get him."

"Tell him I'm sorry, too."

"I didn't say I was going out there for an apology." John propped his hands on his hips, bristling at the idea he needed to confess some wrongdoing. It wasn't like he was remiss in his duties; he'd only delayed certain things in everyone's best interest. "I'm due a full report. It's protocol. That's all. Junior didn't give me any details."

Sam snorted the sound as irritating as a rusty hinge. The quick eye roll made it worse. "How could he with all the yelling?"

"Sam," John warned.

"I'm just saying you might want to reconsider." Sam tilted his head, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. Not too much longer and the kid's hair would be as bad as Caleb's. They both needed to visit New Haven's resident barber. "Pastor Jim won't be too happy with you if you don't fix things. Neither will Dean."

"I could say the same thing for you." John moved towards the kitchen hoping to end the conversation with some evasive moves. When Sam gave chase he was left no choice but to fire back. "If I recall I wasn't the only one yelling. You got in some low blows of your own. I guess Jim is right. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Sam was an excellent conspirator over the years, Caleb's greatest cheerleader when he succeeded in keeping Dean safe, the first to call him to the carpet if he failed in keeping his big brother safe.

"I didn't mean what I said." His son brought his hand to his mouth, chewing the side of his thumb. It was a habit Mary had tried for years to break John of. He couldn't bring himself to reprimand his son for it, though Dean made effort for both of them.

"Then maybe you should be the one apologizing-in person." John moved his attention to the peg behind the door, grabbing his and Caleb's coats and a pair of gloves.

"Yeah." Sam took a step into the room, picking up a gray cashmere scarf that had to be Mac's. He handed it to John. "It's really cold outside. I'll make him a cup of coffee, extra sugar just the way he likes it."

"That's a start, Son." In John's book, actions won out over words hands down. A warm Irish coffee spoke louder than some awkward heart to heart conversation that was bound to leave both parties feeling like idiots. Too bad for him Jim Murphy didn't feel the same way. The pastor might ply a person with pie, but it was just a ruse to get them to have a sit down chat at his kitchen table.

"I could make you one too, if you want."

"That'd be good." John pulled Jim's wool Greek fisherman cap off the rack, tugging it low on his head. The snow was still coming down outside, the wind whistling through the old clapboards of the screened in porch.

"I'll even make it with extra Johnny Walker, just the way you like it."

John stopped at the door, glancing back at his son. He was expecting a smirk, but found a hint of mirth instead. The white flag surprised him. Sam's posture had changed, shoulders dropped, head tilted so his long bangs were hanging over his expressive eyes. In that instant he morphed back into the sweet boy John missed with an ache similar to the longing he often had for Mary's laugh. Sometimes he feared his son was as lost to him as she. He forced a smile. "Throw in some of the pastor's pie for good measure."

"You are never satisfied, Dad." Sam rolled his eyes, but John didn't miss the flash of dimples. It bolstered him better than the alcohol, armoring him for the storm that waited outside.


The horses whinnied when he entered the barn, hoping for more oats. The boys spoiled them in the winter time. John stomped mud and snow from his boots, chickens fluttering at the ruckus. Bathsheba, Jim's latest acquisition, was draped atop the tractor, her cat eyes flashing gold as she tracked John like an unsuspecting barn mouse. Caleb wasn't in sight, but John had a good hunch where the kid would be. A few strides brought him to the door of the root cellar, a heavy tug revealing the soft glow of light from below.

Caleb was sitting at the work bench, pieces of metal strewn around him on the desk and the floor as if the tin man might have exploded in his midst. When John had left on the hunt with Mac, Dean had been holed up working on a project. From the looks of it, he got distracted by the hunt before finishing. Caleb was holding Dean's welding mask. He had his eyes closed and didn't look up until John cleared the last step.

"I'm not in the mood for round two, Johnny," his voice was soft, but held an edge of anger that had become as familiar as Sam's scowl. Neither of them was very happy with John these days.

"You should come inside." John wasn't their biggest fan either. They were both rebelling, just in different ways. Sam chomping at the bit, bucking the reigns as Caleb cunningly slipped off his collar at will, retreating to the normal world of Tri-Corp more and more. John was losing all control, and Mac seemed to be encouraging it. Knight and Scholar were going to have to come to terms. "We need to talk about the hunt."

"I'm doing the only thing I need to do at the moment." Caleb looked up from the mask, his face an all too open display for whatever readings he was getting from the helmet. John knew the kid didn't need to touch an object to open a psychic link to those he was close to, but guessed it would amp the connection. The unmistakable pain reflected in his gold gaze confirmed that.

"At least put these on. Sam's going to feel guilty if you get sick." John tossed the scarf, coat and gloves on the desk.

"Tell Sam I'm fine."

"Suit yourself." John wasn't surprised when the kid didn't take the peace offering. He took a couple of steps back from Caleb, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets. "We can talk out here as easy as in the kitchen. I'm not the one freezing his ass off in an ugly t-shirt."

"What's with the sudden need to chat?" Caleb eyed the coat and scarf, but again didn't make a move for either. "You should make up your mind, Johnny. I thought you didn't want to see my face."

John hadn't told him to go outside, just to get out of his sight. "Last time I checked the farmhouse was a big place."

"Right." Caleb rolled his eyes, reminding John just where his youngest son got that irritating habit. "The infamous Winchester temper could make Cullen's estate feel cramped. How about you just go back to the house, curl up with your Irish coffee and I'll tell Jim I'm all better."

"For someone so hell bent on being Sir Lancelot, you have a lot to learn, kid. The first being I don't need The Guardian to hold my hand to know how to do my fucking job. He turned you over to me as a Greenie that means your ass is mine to do as I please."

"Lancelot really isn't my knight of choice." Caleb glared at him, trying for his good old friends redirect and subterfuge. "I find I have more in common with his bastard son, Galahad, who was renowned for his gallantry and extreme good looks."

"Also known for his devout purity. If I'm not mistaken, Sir Galahad died a virgin." John arched his brows. He could play Caleb's games just as well. "No chance anyone would ever mistake you for such, Junior."

Caleb frowned at John meeting his challenge. He folded his arms over his chest, sulking. "So I'm smarter and way luckier than he was, but you're not really out here to talk to me about chivalric code, are you?"

"No. I leave that kind of knight bullshit to Merlin and all those King Arthur books you used to carry around as a kid. I'm out here to talk about the hunt."

"The hunt I screwed up." Caleb clenched his jaw, tensing as his gaze went back to the helmet he was holding. "I'm not really in the mood to file my report, Knight Winchester. It will be on your desk in the morning, every i dotted, all t's crossed."

John sighed. Stubbornness was one area in which his student had no hopes of surpassing him. "Tell me exactly what happened, Caleb."

"Can't this fucking wait, John?" Caleb stood, dropping the mask he was holding. He gave it a frustrated kick, which sent it skittering across the floor to crash into a long row of empty glass jars. Above them, chickens clucked and flapped once more disturbed from their roost. "I have other shit on my mind. I don't need you pulling rank."

"So, how is Ace doing?" John wasn't ruffled by the outburst. It had been expected. . You could only poke a tiger so long before it struck back. He took a deep breath, remembering the calm way Mackland worked on Dean, the look on The Scholar's face as he stared at John's son. "I know for damn sure you're not down here contemplating your next engineering project."

"How the fuck do you think he is?" Caleb took a step in his direction. "He's hurting."

John stared at the discarded face shield; the helmet seemed to leer back at him. He took a moment to remind himself that Dean was alive and breathing. "Ace is in good hands."

"Unlike earlier when he was in my care? Wasn't that what you were saying in the house-that I did a shitty job of taking care of him?"

John had said as much. It was hard to break old habits. "So you were out here feeling sorry for yourself?" "Fuck you, man."

He looked around the cellar. "How many times do I have to tell you, Junior? You can't throw a decent pity party without some refreshments?"

"If I were throwing any kind of party, you most definitely would not be on the guest list."

"Too bad." John took the snarky reply as a good sign he would be forgiven and could proceed with what needed to be said. He turned, moving to the other side of the small room that throughout the years had transformed from storage space to a tiny workshop. It still held canned vegetables from the pastor's yearly garden; an assortment of fruits and jellies as well as the item The Knight was currently searching for-a healthy stash of Jim's home brew. "You're at least a somewhat amusing drunk."

"You said I was an obnoxious drunk."

He kept his back to Caleb, scanning the over packed shelves for what he wanted. He was going to need the alcohol to have this conversation. "I said you were an embarrassingly cheap drunk." The amber bottles were shoved in the back behind several jars of pickled beets and relish. John hated beets and relish. Jim had a sense of humor. "There's a big difference."

"Semantics," Caleb grumbled.

"You always listen to everything I say, Junior?" Sam wasn't the only one who hoarded John's barbs, creating a personal arsenal for later assault. John grabbed his bottle, turning in time to watch Caleb reclaim his stool, along with the jacket and gloves he had ignored earlier.

"Just the sweet nothings you whisper in my ear." The kid slid on the gloves, holding the coat in his lap. "You know how I need to have my ego stroked."

"You sure as hell don't need any help in the self esteem department, Kid." John bridged the distance between them. He gripped the cork between his teeth, twisting it free with a loud pop as he claimed another empty stool.

"Just in the Knight department?" Caleb toyed with the scarf.

"Let's get back to the hunt. You were about to report on what happened." John took his first long drink of the whiskey, relishing in the smooth burn.

"Do you want me to start with how I screwed up the intel? Or maybe the half-assed salt and burn?"

John took another drink from the bottle, the warmth spread from his chest, loosening muscles in his neck and shoulders. He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "If I recall, Dean found this hunt. He did the research and should have helped with the salt and burn."

Caleb shook his head, tossing the scarf back on the table. "I was still senior hunter in charge."

"But it was Ace's show?" John hadn't been thrilled about Dean running his first gig, but he couldn't tell his son no forever. Jim had given one of his subtle suggestions that the time was at hand. Caleb had been seventeen the first time he set up a hunt. It was standard operating procedure if a hunter was on track to getting his ring. The Guardian had to know a man was capable of putting all the pieces together on his own. "I remember when you brought me your first job-that cult leader in Arkansas. Things didn't go exactly as you planned."

"I sure the hell wasn't in as bad a shape as Deuce. You brought me back relatively unscathed." Caleb picked up the coat and begrudgingly put it on.

"Because Mac swore he'd yank you from The Brotherhood, ship you off to some European prep school, if I didn't." John offered Caleb the bottle of whiskey. It would be better for them both if Caleb was a little tipsy. "I already had three years of training invested in you. It would have been a pain in my ass to start over."

"You never know." Caleb waved off the bottle, but picked up the scarf again, winding it around his neck this time. "Might have been a blessing in disguise."

John pushed the bottle on him again. "Please. Take the damn alcohol."

The kid shook his head. "I need my senses sharp in case Dean needs me."

"He's just across the yard, up the stairs. I don't think you're going to miss anything." John didn't always know how he felt about his protégé's abilities. He'd used them to his advantage over the years, counted on them as a means for Caleb to keep the boys safe, but there was a side to the psychic shit that still raised the hairs on the back of John's neck. It wasn't natural, too close to the things beyond the curtain that they hunted. Then there was Sam, who brought a whole other issue to the equation. "I'd prefer all of you stay in the room with me when I'm trying to talk to you."

"It's not like I'm recanting the Sox's batting averages." Caleb smirked. "Unlike some people, I can actually focus on two things at once."

John remembered another reason why he hated the psychic thing. It was damn hard to maintain boundaries. His blocks were strong, but he was not naïve enough to believe Caleb couldn't read any damn thing he wanted if he was determined enough. "Humor me, Kid."

"Fine." Caleb's face relaxed, some of the pinched lines around his eyes receding. "I'll give you five minutes."

John figured he was getting lucky. "Then I guess you better get started."

"There's not much to tell." Caleb ran a gloved hand through his hair. "It boils down to me not checking Deuce's facts. One of the kids from his new school turned him onto the Crumley place. It has a reputation for being haunted. You know the type. Kids go there on dares. Perfect place for Halloween keg parties."

John lifted the bottle of Jim's brew to his lips but stopped short of drinking. He watched Caleb's face. "Nice place for a guy to impress a pretty girl with his bravery?"

"I guess. Not the same ambiance as The Red Caboose, but I'm sure it's seen some action." Caleb gave nothing away, but John knew his son too well.

"So I'm guessing Ace's source was probably some sweet little cheerleader from his new school, and more than likely he stumbled across Crumley house when it turned out to be a bad place for a poorly planned make out session." John took a long drink, the sharp edges of all that had taken place that night starting to soften as the booze worked its magic. "That doesn't really explain how he ended up with a broken collar bone and enough stitches to give Frankenstein a run for his money."

"Double grave." Caleb looked towards the stairway and John knew his five minutes had been cut short. His protégé's attention was once more divided between the current space he inhibited and Jim's room.

"Damn." John lowered the bottle. Double graves weren't a common occurrence in their line of work, but it could cause a shit load of problems when it did pop up. A hunter would go to do a salt and burn, uncover the coffin, toast the corpse inside, never realizing that there was another box underneath, maybe more than one. "Whoever thought it was a good idea to stack coffins on top of one another was a fucking moron."

"Or just a lazy sonofabitch." Caleb rubbed his temples, the strain of a headache reappearing in deep lines around his eyes. He glanced up at John. "Having been made to dig up more than my fair share of graves by you and Bobby, I can empathize. Why dig two holes when you can just as easily put two boxes in the same one, especially with the way people were dropping back then."

"Where were you when it all went south?" It was a battle to keep accusation from creeping into his tone.

"After we toasted the body, I went to the Jeep for the herbs for the purification ritual. Deuce went on ahead." Caleb's eyes were large, watery with sincere remorse and regret. "I didn't sense any sort of trouble until that thing had Dean in the house. The bastard locked me out, all the windows and doors sealed telekinetically. I couldn't get in, Deuce couldn't get out."

Caleb might have physically been blocked out, but John was certain his protégé was present for what was taking place inside, just like he was witness to whatever was going on currently in Jim's bedroom, across the yard and up the stairs. "What did you do?"

"The only damn thing I could do. I went back to the grave, to see what we had missed, that's when I found the other coffin. It was smaller, maybe a child-possibly his son." Caleb exhaled heavily. "I didn't want to leave Dean in there. I didn't have any choice. It was just me."

"Sounds like you followed protocol." John focused on the fact Caleb had done what he needed to do, instead of what John had inadvertently trained him to do. If John had been with them, Caleb would never have left Dean to finish the salt and burn. There was a reason Caleb had not hunted with Dean without John or Bobby. Caleb allowed John that impossible ability to be in two places at once.

"Are you crazy? I shouldn't have let him go in the house alone. I wasn't paying close enough attention."

"Would you have let another hunter take lead?" John's first instinct, that gut reaction that had him tearing into Caleb after they got Dean settled under Mac's care upstairs was to agree with this student, to guilt him into such a state he would never make the same mistake again, but that would only sabotage the point he was trying to make. Dean and Caleb would have to hunt together. There would come a day when John, Bobby, and Mac would no longer be in the equation. Sam would eventually enter the picture. Dean was going to have to learn this same lesson. A soldier with a blind side would not live through the war.

"We're not talking about some random guy with some silver slapped on his hand. We're talking about Dean-your son!"

"Dean, who wants nothing more than to get his ring and do the job-a job that will put him under your command, but also out in the field with other hunters who won't be as diligent as you in watching his six." Bobby had pushed John to get the point across to Caleb since Dean's werewolf hunt a couple of years before. John insisted it would evolve naturally as Dean got older, but a part of him wasn't so ready to have Caleb make that transition. As much as he hated to admit it, Bobby was right. Caleb was not going to miraculously come to the conclusion he should back off from his priority mission. Maybe subconsciously John didn't want him to.

"That's a bunch of shit and you know it," Caleb said. "The way I've got it figured, I'll be taking orders from Deuce someday. We all will."

John kept the revelation from his face. They didn't discuss Jim's plans often, not directly. Not within their Triad, and most definitely not with the boys. It was odd to hear the possibility of his son being the next Guardian spoken out loud, even in a roundabout way. He swallowed hard, leaning forward to rest his hands on his knees.

"That makes what I'm trying to get through your thick skull even more important. If you don't think he can do the job on his own, then how is Dean going to think he can do it or worse yet, how is he going to convince other hunters he's deserving of their trust, their loyalty? You know as well as anybody that you can't make a man follow someone they don't believe in. Jim Murphy could sing my praises all the day long, but it's the last ten years that I've put in the field that's made me The Knight I am. Men won't follow a man into battle that they don't revere; they sure as hell won't be willing to fall on their sword for him. What will you do when you're second in command to someone you don't even respect?"

"I respect Dean!" Caleb stood, anger coloring his face.

"The hell you do, Caleb." John jumped to his feet, anger with himself feeding on Caleb's own frustration. "You're too busy protecting him, trying to keep him safe, berating yourself when you fail at the job." All things John had encouraged up until this point. He wasn't so blind to see what a hypocrite he was being.

"Whose fault is that? Somebody has to watch out for him and Sam." Caleb pointed at John, as ready as ever to call him on his screw up. "You gave me that job, made me promise to watch over them, to keep them safe at all costs. What happened to that being my most important role?"

"That is still your major role, damn it. It's not changed. But this isn't all about protecting Dean and Sammy. It's about you shielding yourself from losing anyone else." John took a step closer to his protégé. "It's why you've been spending less time hunting, more time in normal world. Building bridges is a whole lot safer ground, especially now that Dean's older, not as easy to shield."

Caleb shook his head in denial, but John could see the truth in his eyes. Just because the kid didn't want it to be true, didn't make it so. They were both going to have to accept that Dean was growing up. John needed to count on Caleb to be there in a way John knew he himself was not capable. "I'm out of here."

"Stop running, damn it." John reached out, grabbing fistfuls of Caleb's jacket. He slammed the kid against the dirt wall. "He's not five years old anymore, needing a big brother to beat back the monsters that sneak through the curtain. That's not The Knight's job."

"Then maybe I'm not cut out to be The Knight!" Caleb gripped his wrists, trying to push him away. John held tight. "In my mind a part of him will always be that five year old little kid."

"Damn it, Junior, that's the problem." John gave the kid another shove before letting him go. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, down his beard. "For the last twelve years all I've tried to do is look past that little boy, try to make Dean into a man that could take care of himself. I did it to keep him safe, to protect him in the only way I knew how. You've called me on it more times than I care to remember, and most of the time you were right. But I'm right about this. You're doing the same damn thing I did; only you're trying to protect him by focusing completely on that five year old Dean. If you're not careful, you're going to cheat him out of the man he could become."

"It's a little late in the game to toss in a new playbook don't you think?"

"I won't deny I've had my own agenda, Kid, but I'm trying to make it right. You don't have to completely lose sight of that little boy I ordered you to protect, hell, I don't want you to, but you've got to be able to see past him if you're ever going to be The Knight that Jim expects you to be, that I know you can be, that Dean will need for you to be."

"How can you ask me not to do something if you couldn't even manage it yourself? That's a whole hell of lot of pot meets kettle, don't you think?"

"Because Sun Tzu had it right. The student should surpass the teacher." John reached out and squeezed the kid's shoulder. "Think of it as your quest for the Holy Grail, Galahad. There's a reason only three men ever achieved it, but everybody should have a goal."

"God, you suck at this mentoring shit." Caleb brought his hands up, rubbed his eyes.

"You make it harder on yourself." John managed a dry laugh, roughly patted the kid's cheek. "I tried to get you drunk first."

"Shit." Caleb let his head fall back against the wall with a thud, his gaze going to the ceiling. "I watch people die in my head all the damn time, Johnny. I keep thinking I'll get used to it, the panic and fear will go away. But when Dean was trapped in that house tonight, all I could think of was how fucking useless I was. I felt like I was five again, watching him be hurt from that closet in my parents' bedroom. How fucked up does that make me?"

"You're not crazy, Kid." John joined Caleb against the wall, their shoulders brushing. "As soon as you brought Dean in the house, I was right back in Sammy's nursery." Later he would blame the alcohol for the unplanned confession. "It's always the first thought on my mind when one of the boys gets hurt, when I let someone else die." Sometimes John heard Mary's screams, felt the heat of the flames, and caught the scent of scorched flesh.

"It's one of the reasons Jim picked us, isn't it?"

The question had him pulling his thoughts from his wife, turning his head to find Caleb staring at him. Death robbed a person of their innocence, made them see that nothing was truly safe. But as strange as it seemed, uncertainty could breed another kind of certainty-one that benefitted a soldier. "Motivation is definitely a first line defense."

"Like a piece of armor." Caleb held his gaze. "A breastplate, protecting The Knight's weakest spot."

John felt his mouth twitch. Leave it to the kid to wax poetic. He hoped naïve notions would never be completely lost on his protégé. "Damn, Junior. That sounds like something Jim Murphy would say over a piece of pie and glass of sweet tea. They serve estrogen through a straw at those business meetings you've been so regularly attending?"

"Fuck you, man."

"That's more like it." John pushed off the wall. "Are we good now?"

"If I say yes, can I go in the house and see Deuce?" John watched the kid glance toward the stairs. "He's coming to."

He folded his arms over his chest. "What's the moral of this long drawn out story?"

"I need to back off and let Deuce hit his own stride." Caleb met his gaze. "Even if it flies in the face of ten years of training, not to mention going against every protective instinct I have."

"Welcome to my world, Kiddo. Nobody said being The Knight of The Brotherhood was easy." Caleb should try being a parent sometime. He threw an arm around the kid's shoulders, steering him towards the stairs. "If it makes you feel any better, Ace is going to have to go through this same thing pretty soon with Sam."

"Right." Caleb snorted. "Maybe I should start prepping him now-give Deuce twenty years or so to get used to the idea of Sammy being an actual grown up."

"Or you could let him handle that battle on his own, and take on the one a Knight should, like reaming him a new one for not doing the proper research on the Crumley place. He could have gotten you both killed" John was willing to release Caleb from his duties as protector to some degree, but he had a feeling he was going to need Dean to stay on top of Sam in the immediate future as the hormones continued to kick in.

"Can I at least wait until he's conscious and on the mend? Maybe cut him some slack until he's weaned off the pain killers?"

"I've found kicking a guy when he's down leaves more of a lasting impression." John grinned at Caleb. "But each warrior has to find his own strategy."

"Chivalry is really is lost on you, Johnny."

John laughed. "Ain't that the fucking truth."