The Principle Of Distinction

By: Tidia

Beta: Household Six

Under the Principle of Distinction, parties to an armed conflict must always distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military targets on the other.

Ruby left them with silencing emotions in her wake. They had saved so many to lose six people who had impacted their lives. However, the destruction of the precinct was the smaller issue, and that was sickening. They, or maybe just Sam, were being sent a message. The demon who held Dean's contract, believed Sam was a threat, was Lilith — and she decided it was time to escalate matters. Sam hadn't told his brother there was a rising threat, another secret on top of the others. This was not how it was supposed to come out, if at all.

He glanced at his brother; shoulders slumped, cradling his arm, wounded beyond his shoulder. Dean dropped the leather pouch Ruby had given as he stood. "Call Caleb," he said before walking to the bathroom and clicking the door shut.

Caleb. During the bank robbery, he had found out about their situation via Joshua on the news. It led to a trip to Minnesota for a Scholarly scolding. However, he was already feeling guilty. Mac's lecture would only pale in comparison to Dean's silence. Sam pushed the speed dial number on his cellphone and didn't give the older hunter a chance to say anything until he got his reassurances out. "Hey, man, we're fine. Really, we're fine. Ignore everything you heard."

"Sam? What the hell?" Sam could hear Caleb's measured breathing. "It isn't ignoring what I hear, it's what I've seen, Sam-all those demons, the deaths. Where's Dean?"

"I'm sorry." It was a feeble apology — Sam knew what visions were like. There was a powerlessness undercurrent that came with the inability to help the person in peril at that moment. He recognized the breathing tactic as one from Caleb's journal, to avoid what the older hunter had called a 'vision hangover'. "He's cleaning up." Sam couldn’t hear any water running in the bathroom.

"Are you doing okay, Runt? I saw the demon stuff. I couldn't make sense of it."

"We have a lot to talk about. There's a new player in town." He would need to be more forthcoming with Caleb, especially after all they had been through getting Dean back from Rose. One threat plus another one equaled over their heads.

Caleb interrupted his thoughts. "I wanna talk to him. . .Is he okay? Really? I saw the blood. . ."

The blood Sam had seen splattered on the wall as the bullet tore through his brother's shoulder still sickened him, too. Of course, it had to be the same shoulder he had placed a bullet in when he was possessed by Meg, because they all needed a reminder of that little moment of hell, too. He could understand that Caleb needed extra assurances. "I'll get him for you." Although he didn't want to disturb his brother's moment of solitude, he knocked on the door.

Dean opened the door in the same clothes, no damp collar or sleeves, wearing only the blank look of control.

"He wants to talk to you." Sam handed him the phone but remained close by so he could hear at least Dean's end of the conversation.

"Damien, like Sam said, we're fine," Dean stated. He waited a bit then rolled his eyes. "My definition of 'fine' is the same as yours, Damien." While he nodded through what was probably a fairly accurate defense on Caleb's part, Dean placed a hand on his shoulder as if he was covering it up from Caleb's prying eyes. "He wants to meet up with us," Dean commented to Sam, but then diverted his attention to the phone again. "That's not a good idea. . . "

Sam frowned. He was going to put up an argument when the look on Dean's face said that Caleb had begun his justification.

"Yeah, I know we're dead, but . . . "

Sam pushed his brother's good shoulder. Dean glared at him, rolled his good shoulder where Sam had touched him, and pushed his brother right back. "Fine. Atlanta."

They said their goodbyes after deciding on a meeting place. Dean tossed the phone to his brother. Sam fumbled with it for a moment before getting a secure grip on it.

"I'm going out for a minute. Be right back."

The younger hunter was dumbfounded as Dean walked out the door. He held the phone tight, wondering if he should call Caleb again to review the day, starting with them being captured. Instead Sam plugged the phone in to charge it, took a shower, and heard the call of the motel bed.

Dean did come back, quietly. Sam had tried to get some rest, using mediation exercises. His favorite had become the one where you watch your thoughts go down a stream, passing by, but there were too many thoughts not quieted until his brother returned. Even then, sleep was a long, rough time in coming.

The next morning, Dean was hunched by the laptop. The way he held himself showed he had been there a while; Sam was guessing he hadn’t slept. "I should check that shoulder."

Dean turned, not looking caught by surprise. "It’s fine."

Sam noticed his brother was wearing a different shirt, and, judging by the bulge on the shoulder, the wound was packed. He still didn't trust Dean. At some point, he would have to see it for himself. "No infection?"


"Does it hurt?"

"Ye-ah." Dean shook his head. "I took a Tylenol with Codeine, so you'll be driving to Atlanta." Dean stood, grabbing the long sleeve flannel shirt which was thrown over the chair.

"Ahh, okay, give me a minute." Sam put his feet on the stained carpet. He needed a shower to wake himself up.

"I'll get some breakfast." Dean had the car keys in his hand.

Sam didn't know if that was a good idea, especially with his brother looking bleary eyed. "You gonna make it?" The McDonald's was about one hundred yards away — an easy walk without a bullet wound to the shoulder.

"I'll make it." Dean put the car keys down. "All right, cupcake?"

Sam was relieved; codeine caused drowsiness and affected reaction time. He was also pleased by Dean's teasing, no matter how juvenile. It was welcomed, especially after the silent night, along with the prospect of McMuffins, hashbrowns, coffee and juice.

When his brother returned, Sam packed up while Dean ate. He glared at his brother to see if there would be wise-ass remark. .

"What? I'm wounded," he said with his mouth full. "You ready?"

Sam swung both bags on his shoulder, and with a free hand, ate the breakfast sandwich with gusto. Dean made himself comfortable in the car and was sleeping by the time they hit the highway.

Caleb knocked on the door, a three–two rap, difficult as he held three pizza boxes and two six-packs. When Sam opened the door, he involuntarily flinched. No psychic reading was needed to see the melancholy and soul weariness of the two brothers.

The food and drink were whisked out of his hands while he went through the motions of entering the motel room. Under normal circumstances, he would have complained about the lack of greeting, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Before him he saw a toddler and a little boy, then two little boys, two teenagers, and finally two men. These were the men his life was bound to in a complex matrix. The hurt he saw in them hurt him, but he put on his best game face and announced, "One veggie, one pepperoni and one Hawaiian."

"Man, that is just wrong—pineapple on a pizza," Dean said as he opened the top box with a grimace.

"No one is asking you to eat it, Deuce. In fact, it's mine and I don't like to share."

Sam had opened the other two boxes, picked off a slice of pepper, and popped it in his mouth.

They used one motel room to eat and drink, each taking their own pie. The door to the adjoining room was open. Through each bite, the brothers told the story about the assault, but details seemed to be missing. He didn't press, yet, figuring he showed great restraint when they mentioned Ruby. He only said 'Don't trust her' once.

"To Victor." Dean lifted his beer. Caleb watched as he favored his right arm, the left snug to his body.

The younger Winchester did the same. "Good man."

"The Geek Squad is going to miss his tenacity. They admired him, according to Mac," Caleb added for the fallen FBI agent who had turned from foe to friend in the course of the situation at the precinct. The Geek Squad had done their job, keeping Mac, Caleb and the other members of The Brotherhood away from FBI scrutiny.

"So what's next?" Caleb finished off his Hawaiian Delight, patted his stomach, topping it off with his third and final beer for the night. He would nurse it, waiting the Winchester brothers out.

"We need to go and find the Colt." Sam made himself comfortable on one of the beds.

"Why didn’t you ever warn us about Bela?" Dean had gone through two beers, one languishing in his hand. It was a tell that he was in pain—mix it with too much alcohol and it would cause him to lose that tight rein on his emotions. Dean wasn't one to reveal his inner thoughts which pick and wound his psyche. Caleb didn't relish having to press, but it would have to be done sooner or later.

"She was overseas. And knowing you, you would have taken it as a challenge to meet her. Remember Syria?"

"I do." Sam gave a mock shiver. Syria was the witch working with Duran who had poisoned him. "Bela is nothing like her. . ."

"Are you defending her?" Dean said, picking up the pizza box and dumping it on the floor. "Because she shot you. Did you forget that?"

"And both are skanky. Bela just tries to hide it," Caleb chimed in. Syria used her sexuality overtly like she was in heat; Bela used her femininity as well but made it seem less blatant. Syria was dead, and he hoped Bela would have the same fate. She needed to be away from the brothers.

"Gang up on a guy already!" Sam looked away.

"Doesn't make a difference, Runt." Caleb grinned. "Ethan has an APB out for her — seems like she screwed him over, too." It had been the police officer's pleasure to put the All Points Bulletin out in Texas. He used his contacts in other states to do the same.

"Would have been nice having a Fed on our side." Dean toyed with the lip of the bottle.

Caleb looked down at the carpet, giving Dean some space.

"What are we going to do about Lilith? We have to tell Mac." Sam teetered the empty bottle on the bed, then seemed to think twice and placed it on the floor. "How are we gonna tell Mac?"

Caleb stood, taking the empty and passing Sam another bottle, which he quickly drank half of in a single gulp. "The Brotherhood can bring Lilith down." He tried to exude confidence, even as he wondered how things had escalated. Lilith was higher up than the Yellow Eyed Demon, and it had taken a good twenty-plus years to take that thing out. It would take The Brotherhood banding together, healing to one cohesive group to eliminate her new threat. For that to happen, there would need to be a Guardian. "We'll talk to Mac tomorrow and start from there."

Sam finished the bottle, tossed it so it reached the end of the bed then rolled off. "Everyone's going to hate us."

Dean snorted, holding his bottle between the palms of his hands. "And that's unusual how?"

"You know what I mean." Sam raked a hand through his hair. "We have some friends, but with Lilith hounding us . . ."

"I'll still be around, and that's really all that matters." Caleb meant it to sound reassuring, but it was also cocky, like he used to be when he was around the brothers.

"And Bobby, he has to like us," Dean said grinning, then shaking his head towards his brother. "Get some rest, Sammy."

"Bobby's family, like Mac," Sam mumbled, then wiped a hand down his face. "That doesn't count. It's everyone else I'm worried about."

Dean lifted his hand to silence Caleb, then pointed to his watch and mouthed the words 'five minutes'. To Sam, he said quietly, "We'll worry about it tomorrow. Go to sleep."

"I'm sorry, Dean. I should have told you," Sam slurred as six beers and exhaustion collided together.

"Yeah, a warning on a new demonic force of epic proportions would have been nice." There was no venom in Dean's voice, just the usual patience he always had with his little brother. "Tomorrow, Sam, you had a rough night last night."

Caleb took the time to study both of them. Almost asleep, he read Sam's jumbled thoughts of worrying combining with swirling darkness of the future, holding back his fear. Sam was determined to be detached, going against his nature.

Dean's thoughts were equally confusing, more despair taking hold where before there had been some hope and trust. He retreated when Dean stood with a groan.

"You'd think with his size that he'd have a wooden leg, but no, a six-pack does him in. I should work on his tolerance level." He took the corners of the bedspread and placed it over his brother's legs.

"Don't do that. It's nice to be able to out drink one Winchester," Caleb said with a smirk.

Wincing, Dean returned to his seat. Caleb unzipped his duffle bag; he had placed his medical kit on the top. "You know I have the good pain meds."

"I don't think . . . " Dean swallowed, eyeing salvation. The tentativeness was palpable with fear.

"Dude, get over it. We have a doctor in the family for a reason." Caleb stood, tucking the kit under his arm and offered a hand up to his friend. "The bandage needs to be changed, and you need some rest, too, unless you want gangrene."

Dean accepted the hand. Caleb detoured him into his room instead of the narrow bathroom; with further maneuvering, he had Dean sit on the edge of the bed. Without being told to, the injured hunter removed his shirt to expose the bandage with the droplets of blood staining it.

"Sam used a lot of gauze." The bandage looked uncomfortable.

"I did it myself."

Dean was then still, reminding Caleb too much of the hunt after Sam had left. Caleb had had to patch up Dean in Bobby's bathroom, weighted by silence and an internal monologue he'd needed to break through. He hoped this time would be easier. "Nice plan you had at the police station."

Dean licked his lips. Still no eye contact with Caleb, who was cutting off the bandage. "Had to come up with something. Ruby and Sam. . ."

"That doesn't go together." The psychic threw the soiled bandaged on the bed. The wound, a through and through bullet hole, was packed. He sterilized the tweezers with an alcohol swab and picked it out.

The younger hunter flinched. "Sam. . . he's different." He exhaled heavily through his nose. "He thinks I'm mad about him not telling me that there was another player. I'm not. I'm worried. He was ready to sacrifice an innocent."

"The virgin?" Caleb recalled her name was Nancy, but Dean had referred to her a few times in awe at being a virgin. However, that was secondary compared to the revelation Dean was making about his brother. There was fear of Sam changing into something else. Caleb had witnessed it and called it intensity, drive or even motivation, nothing so sinister as Dean was insinuating with the word 'different.' "Damn." There was silence again; Caleb kept to the task at hand, not probing any further. The wound had no sign of infection with the sterile saline solution he used to clean it, the water running down causing Dean to involuntarily shiver without comment. Caleb saw the other bullet hole, neatly healed, from when Sam had been possessed, close by the new injury. "Your shoulder's gotta be messed up. You should have Mac hook you up with an ortho."

"Because a fucked up shoulder is a high priority with less than a year to live," Dean growled, pulling away from Caleb's ministration.

Caleb couldn't allow the wallowing in self-pity. "No, but next year you'll be complaining about arthritis, and I don't want to hear your bitching." He opened one of the packaged of bandages and liberally doused them with antibiotic ointment. They had to be packed in the wound.

"She says she can't help."

It was good that Dean was looking straight ahead instead of at Caleb. He closed his eyes for moment. "And this surprises you?"

"She fed Sam a lie, says I'm going to Hell."

Dean turned. Whether it was to study to the wound or Caleb, he didn't know. "You should have kept her inside while you did the exorcism." Caleb placed a coating of the ointment on the exit and entrance points.

"I think she's right."

Caleb placed tape so that the bandage wouldn’t slide off. "She's a lying liar who lies, Deuce. You just said she fed Sam a lie and she just did the same to you. I really need to meet this chick—why are you both so gung-ho to believe her? Is she that hot?"

Dean snorted. It wasn't much of a reaction, but it was an improvement. "No. She's like a freaky Barbie doll, and in a bad way."

"Not in a 'Hmm, so you're into the Kama Sutra,' sorta thing?" he said as he read the pill bottles, finally finding the one he wanted. "Take two and I'll see you in the morning."

Dean dry swallowed the pills, not even bothering to ask what Caleb had given him. Caleb was humbled by the implicit trust.

"Damien, listen, if I'm asleep and I. . .well. . ." Dean faltered, unwilling to invoke even mentioning a nightmare. "Just wake me up—okay?"

"Yeah, man, no problem." Caleb squeezed Dean's good shoulder, brought the hand to his elbow to help him to standing. "I'm even going to be generous and not mention this girly moment when next year rolls around and you're still here. Can't make promises, though."

"You're all heart, man." Dean grinned, waving off further assistance as he returned to his room.

Jim had told him that Dean had the heart of a Guardian. Caleb could see the importance of that feature for The Guardian. It created a call-to-arms, a willingness to go to battle for the sake of the cause. Caleb and Sam had both answered that call to help Dean, and they would.

Caleb, dressed in jogging pants and t-shirts, stood over Sam's bed. He had checked on Dean, who was thankfully still sleeping soundly. There had been no nightmares from either brother. He hadn't really slept, too concerned over Dean's worries about Sam and placing together the pieces about the tension between the brothers.

He bent down, bouncing his hand up and down on the mattress to shake the youngest Winchester awake.

Sam opened his eyes, looked at Caleb, but said nothing.

"We need to talk. We're going out for a run." Caleb lifted Sam's sneakers and dropped them onto Sam's chest.

Sam sat up, glancing at his brother. "Now?"

"Now." Caleb pulled the sheet back, then stepped away to give Sam room to get up and get to the bathroom to change.

"How about a walk to get some coffee and aspirin?" Sam grumbled as he passed. Caleb pointed to the bathroom, then crossed his arms. "Fine, I'm coming."

Caleb waited outside the motel room door for Sam, using the ten minutes to stretch. It was quiet in the Perimeter section of Atlanta, over ten miles out of the city proper. Sam exited with a soft click behind him. He squinted at Caleb, the light morning sun still too much for him.

They kept up their strides, their sneakers thwacking in a one–two tempo, hitting the pavement.

"You're in full John Winchester mode," Sam said in a huff of breath.

Caleb thought fondly about the extra training exercises his mentor would force on him when he made a mistake or John knew he had to work something out. "Funny you should mention him. I was thinking the same about you." Because on the other hand, John could be single minded about the hunt.

"Me?" Sam faltered slightly on his pace.

"Sam, I respect you." They had worked out a lot of their issues when they were searching for Dean, gaining cohesiveness. "And I know . . . "

"Know what?" Caleb could feel Sam put up his psychic guards.

"How hard it is with Dean's deal, the psychic abilities and Ruby . . ."

"Caleb, I don't know." The psychic wall recessed.

"And because of that, you decide to be cold-hearted hunter? That's not you, Sam." Maybe in his eyes Sam would always be 'Tiny Einstein' who believed in Santa for far too long. He was the baby of the family, and Caleb hoped that some of that innocence and thirst for knowledge would always remain.

Sam slowed the pace, and Caleb deferred to it. "Maybe that's what I need to be to get the job done. Dad was one of the best hunters. Time to take a page from his book."

"Taking a page from Johnny is one thing, but reading the book Ruby is giving you is something else entirely." Caleb wanted Sam to see how he was being influenced.

"She's trying to help."

"We don't need her. We have The Brotherhood to help deal with Lilith. We need to keep our heads so we can get Dean through this." Caleb playfully shoved his shoulder into Sam to jostle him and to show how easy it was to become off balance. "When we had to save Dean, that was all John Winchester, but now? Not so much."

"Did Dean say something to you?" Sam started walking, heaving his breaths and waiting for an answer. "This isn’t about me not saying anything about the rising threat, is it? He's upset about that girl." Sam frowned.

It was not an answer which he was going to divulge. "Dean wants smart, logical Sam, 'cause that Sam and devastatingly handsome Caleb – they'll save his ass."

"So all you have are looks going for you? Is that how you've been running down your leads? I guess then I really need to pull more weight in this partnership because we're saving him. Then he can come on these runs with you." Sam gave Caleb a shove, using the tactic to start running again.

It was a partnership between them. He was glad Sam recognized that—Dean couldn't be included on their plans, leaving him an awkward man out. However, the results were all that mattered — Sam remaining Sam, Dean not going to Hell, and Caleb making sure the Runt didn't beat him back to the motel.

Dean awoke with a dry mouth and a buzzing in his head, the charming side effects of the pain medication Caleb had given him. His shoulder was a dull ache, bearable, which was a positive side effect of pain meds and a good night's sleep.

He turned his head and was greeted by the note with its funny picture of a finger. Caleb had taken Sam running after a night of too much pizza and beer. The note said to 'STAY PUT.' It sounded like a great idea. Just like that. Stay put. In the bed with scratchy sheets smelling like bleach, the motel room carrying the scent of beer, pizza and stale heat from a sputtering ventilation system, he wished it was that simple. He wanted to stay put on this earth. It was doomed too, but it was the place where he could keep Sam safe.

It always came back to that one point that Sam and Caleb seemed to forget. His deal was about saving Sam — the Sam he knew, grew up with, not the Sam with the blank unreadable expression who thought Nancy should die so others could live. One life was as important as the next. The good of the many was just crap.

But he shouldn’t have shared that particular information with Caleb, now out for a run telling Sam his brother was turning into a hormonal girl, spilling emotions.

His fears.

He had a right to be afraid. Each of his fears had come to pass — John's death, Sam's death — so in all likelihood, he would become a demon like Ruby had said. The only redeeming factor was that it would take hundreds of years, and by then Sam and Caleb would be long gone so some other random hunter would get him.

That was the bright side.

He wished Sam and Caleb could tell him they were making progress, what possible solutions they had discovered. However, any knowledge on his part would jeopardize Sam. So as he remained in the dark, the darkness began to tinge him, permeate and disintegrate his hope. He couldn't share that with Sam or Caleb, because he had to show he had faith and confidence they would find a solution. They were about the only thing he had any faith left for.

When he heard the muttering at the door, he tucked the thoughts away for another time and braced himself up against the headboard as the door opened and the twosome stumbled inside with a tray of coffees.

"You're awake!" Sam said, as he studied his brother. He must have been satisfied with Dean's appearance because he didn't ask him how he was feeling.

"If that entrance you both made was supposed to be a quiet one, then you both need to practice."

"We're psychic." Caleb tapped the side of his head. "We knew you were awake."

Sam nodded his head in agreement as he took the plastic lid off the Styrofoam cup and passed it to his brother.

Dean wrapped his hands around the cup, enjoying the warmth of the cup and of the friendship Caleb and Sam had formed. "That's just a lame excuse, which you would never try with Dad."

Caleb snorted. "Hell, no! I think I went through boot camp at least twice a year for five years — most of the time because you two got me in trouble."

"Who? Us?" Sam had taken a seat on Dean's bed.

This was the Sam he remembered, the boy who gave as good as he got, who wanted to stand with his brother. This was his kind of normal, being able to turn to Caleb to have someone hear him out, then try to make things better. It was time to put things back to normal.

"Since there's no new leads with Bela, what about finding a hunt?"