“Healing” by Ridley C. James

I hurt myself today.

To see if I still feel.

I focus on the pain-the only thing that’s real.

The needle tears a hole.

The old familiar sting.

Try to kill it all away,

But I remember everything.

What have I become, my sweetest friend?

Everyone I know goes away in the end.

And you could have it all, my empire of dirt.

I will let you down. I will make you hurt. - Johnny Cash

“Goddamnit, John. I knew you should have fucking sat this one out.” Bobby Singer threw his hat on the floor as he was roughly shoved out of the way by Winchester and Caleb Reaves as they struggled through his front door, Dean Winchester hanging limply between them. He knew something like this was going to happen. The mechanic even told Mackland John was on a down hill spiral, but as usual nobody listened to him.

“Yeah.” John growled, letting Silas Fox take his place in helping his son into the house. He whirled on Bobby, showering him with a splattering of mud and water that had gathered in the folds of his soaked jacket. There was a wild gleam in his dark eyes. “But guess what? YOU don’t tell me what to do, Bobby! You sure as hell don’t get to bench me from the fucking game. I give the orders.”

“To those kids maybe!” Singer gestured towards Caleb and Dean as they disappeared around the corner of the hallway, tracking sludge and blood onto his floors. “Not to me. I‘m not so young or starry-eyed anymore.”

Silas was relieved of duty at the bathroom door by a glare from Mackland Ames’s son. The boy didn’t have to speak to let his disapproval be known. Unlike the raging bull in the living room, Reaves could tell you to fuck off with a look.

“Damn if you’re not a fucking mess, Deuce.” Caleb ignored the arguing men, concentrating on keeping Dean upright and conscious. He pushed various fancy shampoo bottles and a loofa out of the way and helped the younger man sit on the edge of the tub. He and Dean could mercilessly rib the mechanic about his taste in toiletries later, when no one was bleeding to death on the porcelain tub. “You with me?”

“Yeah,” Dean mumbled, fumbling to help the older hunter free him from his destroyed jacket.

Caleb sighed. The twenty-two-year-old had been relegated to one word sentences these days-a mere shadow of his former cocky self. “You‘re a pain in the ass you know that?” He tossed Dean’s sopping coat aside. “And you don‘t listen worth a goddamn. I told you to stay behind me.” He took the bottom of the kid’s shirt in his hand and ripped it open. Dean didn’t even flinch. “What? You not even going to disagree with me? Run your smart-ass mouth? Complain about me ruining your shirt?” It was unsalvageable, covered in mud and a mixture of his and Dean’s blood.

“It’s yours.”

Caleb frowned when he recognized the shredded faded Auburn tee. “Damn,” he hissed. They had been living on the road for the last two weeks, with little down time for creature comforts like clean laundry. “That’s two you owe me, bitch.”

Dean merely nodded, half listening to the psychic. Music was playing from somewhere, seeping through the paper-thin walls, the rough voice of Johnny Cash easily recognizable. He glanced over Caleb’s shoulder, trying to see out into the hall where his father was giving ‘The Man In Black’ a run for his money by shouting at Bobby. But the haunting words of the song were all he could soak up.

I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.’

“I told you we could handle it!” John pointed a finger in Singer’s face.

“Fuck, John, you call getting yourself and the boys cornered and mangled by a couple of hell hounds handling it?” Bobby didn’t want to think about what might have happened if Silas hadn’t been close by. He sure as hell didn’t be the one to make the phone call to Jim or Mackland if the worst ever happened.

The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting. Try to kill it all away. But I remember everything.’

Winchester ignored him. “But you just had to stick your nose in it, calling Silas in for reinforcement. Did you call Mackland while you were at it-ask him to bring a straight jacket and some of his magic pills? Because I‘m good.”

What have I become, my sweetest friend?’

Singer shook his head, threw up his hands in frustration. He had sure as hell thought about calling Ames, but knew that would only stir more trouble. “Did you see your son?”

Everyone I know goes away in the end.’

“Dean’s fine, Bobby. He’s had worse.”

And you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.’

“Hold this.” Caleb shoved the first aid bag into Dean’s hand, bringing his focus back to the cluttered bathroom. He blinked, looking at Reaves for the first time since they had made it back to the car.

“How you doing, kiddo?” The barely veiled concern weaved into the light tone grounded Dean and he tried to stay focused. “You need something for the pain?”

The psychic looked like hell. A nasty gash ran the length of his right cheek, and an impressive bruise was appearing over his left eyebrow where he’d slipped on the slick rocks of the riverbed trying to pull Dean free from the current. “I can take it.” The words came out flat and monotone as he watched Reaves grimace. Apparently his friend had been hoping for a quick comeback, some signs of life. Dean thought it ironic that he felt like he was drowning for a whole month now and tonight he actually did. But then Caleb had brought him back. He supposed he owed the man something. “Didn’t you hear, Damien? I’ve had worse.”

Damn it, John. “Sure you have.” Reaves shook his head as the image of Dean’s lifeless body draped across Silas Fox’s shoulders sprang unbidden to his mind. The whole hunt had gone wrong from the beginning. They were all tired, run down from too many all night searches of the woods where cattle and even a few humans had disappeared. “We’ll get you patched up and you can clean all the weapons for the blatant insubordination, how about that? Maybe even use Bobby’s prehistoric washing machine so you won’t have to mooch off my wardrobe.”

The younger hunter didn’t reply as Caleb dug under Bobby’s sink for some clean towels. He cursed the situation and the uncharacteristic quietness. Mackland had called it regression-explaining that Dean was reverting back to a child-like state like when his mother had died. It was his way of dealing with the loss. Whatever the hell it was, Caleb hated it. It made him want to shoot something, or at least punch someone. Maybe John.

He slammed the cabinet door, dropping the supplies beside of him. Enough was enough. He reached up, grasping Dean’s chin in his hand. “Talk to me, man. If you keep playing the quiet game, I’m going to think you hit that reinforced steel head of yours hard enough for a concussion, which as you know would land your ass in the ER.”

Dean swallowed, pulling away from him with a wince. “You pick now to follow Jim’s privacy rules?”

“Reading you deprives me of your witty comebacks and charm, Deuce.” Caleb squeezed the younger hunter’s wrist, held his gaze. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Doctor Johnny had pretty much declared them all well enough to return to Singer’s instead of the local hospital, but Caleb wasn’t so sure. He hated the ER as much as the next guy but that dog had gotten Dean good, dragging him into the freezing river before Reaves or Silas could get off a shot.

The kid coughed, shook off the psychic’s concern. “Just stitch me up.”

Footsteps alerted him that they were no longer alone, so Caleb held his tongue. The familiar shouting told him it wasn’t John or Bobby. “Can I help?”

Reaves tensed at the deep baritone. Despite the fact that Silas had helped save their asses, he didn’t feel comfortable around the older hunter. The man was known for his skill in tracking anything demonic, and Caleb had heard Pastor Jim speak well of him, but he still didn’t know him. In fact, he felt cornered having a stranger in the small cramped bathroom, but worse, he felt Dean was vulnerable in his injured state. “I got it.”

“You probably want to use holy water on those bites.” Silas gestured towards the deep wounds on Dean’s shoulder and Caleb turned on him, not able to explain the irrational surge of protectiveness he was feeling.

“Back off, Fox,” he growled, and the older man retreated a few steps. “I got this. We‘re not amateurs.”

“Sorry.” He held up his hands. “It’s just that those things can be nasty if not treated properly.”

“I know how to do my job.” And so does John-most of the time.

“I’m sure you do, Caleb. I wasn’t insinuating anything different.”

Reaves turned back to Dean, whose glassy gaze was focused on the door. “I’m going to get some more supplies. You stay put.” He took one of the towels and pressed it to a cut on Winchester’s side that hadn’t stopped bleeding. “And hold this.”

He waited for the younger hunter to acknowledge the directive, to give him some kind of indication that he was okay with being alone with Silas. Placing his hand over the make-shift bandage, the kid finally met his gaze, nodding that he was alright and Caleb stood.

Silas watched the exchange and had to move quickly out of the doorway to avoid being stampeded by the taller, dark haired hunter. Again he was struck by the look of dark warning that was tossed his way and he wondered, not for the first time, at the talk that often surrounded John Winchester’s choice of protégé. Reaves at least had the whole death before dishonor thing down. And he was fearless. Both boys shared that attribute. They had fought like warriors and Silas couldn’t help but to be more than a little impressed, and pleased that Singer‘s fated call had allowed him to be privy to the inner workings of their dynamic.

Dean could feel Fox’s eyes on him, but he didn’t care. The man might as well have been invisible. Most people were these days. It was better that way. Nothing seemed real, since … Dean, swallowed back the bile that lurched up the back of his throat. He wasn’t going to be sick in front of Silas. He could catch bits and pieces of the music again and it gave him something to focus on besides the acidic pit in his gut. Damn Bobby must have put the CD on replay, because it was the same song. But his father was still competing with the melody, singing his own tune as usual.

What have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end.’

“Get your goddamn things. We’re leaving.”

I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair. Full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair.”

Caleb looked up at John like he’d lost his fucking mind, which obviously he had. “What?” He gestured towards the duffel he was digging through. “I haven’t finished patching up the kid. We’re not going anywhere until I do.”

“You heard me!” Winchester roared, the adrenaline from the hunt still coursing through his veins, mixing badly with the anger and grief that had been simmering for weeks now since... “Get your br…Dean and haul ass, now.”

“John, don’t make me go get my shotgun again.” Bobby sighed. “I will fill your ass full of buckshot if I have to.”

Beneath the stains of time, the feelings disappear. You are someone else, I am still right here.’

“No.” Caleb straightened to his full height, the holy water momentarily forgotten. He shook his head, the action causing the stabbing pain behind his eyes to increase. “No way, Johnny. You can go your merry way, but Deuce and I are checking into Club Singer for the night. Whatever bug you've got up your ass can wait until morning.”

What have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know, goes away in the end.’

John strode forward, getting into Caleb’s face. “Don’t tell me what my son is or isn’t going to do. You’ve got no right…”

“No right? You can’t turn me on and off like a faucet, you sanctimonious bastard,” Caleb growled. “ ‘Watch Dean’s back, Caleb.’ ‘Keep his ass out of trouble, Reaves.’ Hold his fucking hand when you’re crossing the street, Kid.’ Sound familiar? I’ve been here for too damn long and I‘m not an eighteen-year-old boy. You aren’t kicking me out.”

And you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.’

The hard right cross to the jaw was more shocking than painful, but it sent Caleb crashing into the end table, one of Bobby’s prized Hula-doll lamps shattering on the floor.

If I could start again, a million miles away. I would keep myself. I would find a way.’

Fox glanced to Dean, who seemed to be looking through him, but his eyes had changed. The glassy-look of shock had passed, replaced now by a stormy green sea of anguish. He was trying to get to his feet, an act that was made damn difficult by the bruised ribs and blood loss. Silas started to offer him a hand, but the boy had the same ability as Reaves and one glare had him stepping back, motioning the stubborn kid past him.

Caleb caught himself against the wall, managing to stay on his feet. John didn’t give him or Bobby time to react before he was grabbing at his jacket, shoving him against the surface that had momentarily saved his pride.

The second punch hurt like hell, but the fact that John had actually hit him again did the only real damage. Caleb took the pain in stride, despite the shot of agony that tore through his face, reverberating through his skull. Still, the act itself stunned him, kept him from reacting. He never saw it coming. John had threatened to do it a lot over the years. Hell, so had Bobby, Boone, and just about every other hunter that had helped train him…but he‘d never had anyone lay a hand on him, at least not in anger. Had never expected it, especially from Winchester.

“Don’t ever talk to me like that again.” John grabbed fistfuls of Caleb’s shirt, slamming him against the wall again. “Do you understand me, Samuel?”

Bobby wasn’t sure John even caught the slip of the tongue but the look that raced across Caleb’s face reflected all too well that he had heard it. “Goddamnit, John,” Singer growled, taking hold of John’s arm, trying to pull him away before his old friend lost another person he loved. “Let him go. Now!”

John was hearing none of it. He rammed Reaves against the wall again, the psychic’s head snapping back against the wood. “Answer me!”

“Dad!” Dean shoved between his father and Caleb, braking John’s hold. He faced the older man. “That’s enough!”

John wasn’t thwarted. He was like a steamroller. “I say when it’s enough, Dean.” He poked the boy hard in the chest, ignoring any injuries visible or not. “ Me! Not you! Not your brother! I am in charge of this family.”

Dean stepped back, feeling Caleb tense behind him. That was it. His father had finally realized what he had done, or had he? “Sorry to break it to you, Dad, but you can’t control everything.” Especially not my brother. “Just stop it,” he snapped. He was so tired of all the yelling. “It’s over.” He’s gone. “Let it go.” Let him go.

For a moment, it looked as if there would be another impasse, but then the older Winchester stepped back, and Caleb watched him drop his gaze to the floor. “Shit,” he whispered, brokenly, raking both his hands through his hair, before glancing up again. “Caleb…”

Reaves was about to tell him exactly where he could put that 'sorry' he could see brewing in the dark, watery depths when Dean shattered the moment by collapsing against him. "Deuce!" He caught the younger man, his beef with John taking second place to the current threat to the man's son.

"Dean?" John stepped forward, helping Caleb ease the younger hunter to the floor. "Damn it."

"He lost a shitload of blood. The idiot never listens to what I tell him," Caleb said, letting his fingers rest against the blond's throat. He glanced to Bobby, who had kneeled down beside them. "We need to get him somewhere I can stitch him up."

John started to help, but Reaves glared at him. "We got it." Caleb jutted his chin towards the duffel. "Get the holywater." It was that irrational thing again, and probably childish, but Caleb needed to reclaim some ground. He had meant what he said. John wasn't running him off, no matter if he was doing it out of grief or self-pity.

The psychic could tell the older man wanted to argue, maybe even clock him again for good measure, but another glance at Dean had his face softening, and Reaves almost felt bad. After all, John had already lost one son. "Be careful with him," Winchester finally relented, standing up.

"Ditto, Johnny," Caleb bit out as he and Bobby heaved the kid up off the floor and started for the bedroom."Ditto."

Someone was breathing loudly in Dean‘s ear, and he could feel a warm presence pressed against his side. He forced his eyes open, blinking the unfamiliar and blurry surroundings into focus.


The voice startled him and Dean lifted his head, wincing as stiff muscles protested the sudden movement. Caleb was sitting in a chair beside the bed, a tattered car magazine opened across his chest. “Hey.” Dean sighed, resting back against the pillow, only to receive a sloppy kiss from the other occupant of the bed.

“Fuck.” He jumped, shoving at the black beast, when Lola rooted more of her massive body closer to him, rolling onto her back, four paws stretching skyward.

Reaves laughed. “The lady was kind enough to share her bed with you, the least you can do is give her a little morning kiss.”

“Man,” Dean groaned, eyeing the Rottweiller spread out the length of the bed. “I’m going to get fleas.”

“Hell, Deuce, she’s probably cleaner than some of the other women you’ve woken up with.”

The younger hunter flipped him off. “Shut up.”

Caleb leaned forward, a familiar smirk on his face. “Be thankful it wasn’t Brutus.” Bobby’s other ’child’ was known for cleaning his impressive private parts in public, passing horrendously foul gas, as well as getting frisky with anything from a throw pillow to an unsuspecting hunter’s leg.

“How’d I get here?” Dean gestured to Bobby’s spare junk room, trying to find a way to ease himself into a sitting position without causing himself anymore pain.

“Well, after you fainted like the girl you are, I carried your heavy ass back here.”

Dean frowned, rubbing at his eyes. “I don’t faint.”

“Faint, succumbed to blood loss-same difference.”

“I’ll remember that the next time it happens to you, Bullseye.”

Caleb unconsciously reached up to touch his black eye. He frowned at the younger man. “You’re welcome.”

“I’m not sure, but I think I ended up here by saving your life-twice.”

“Speaking of that…what the hell were you thinking? Huh?”

Caleb was speaking about the hellhounds but if Dean realized he ignored it. “That Dad was going to kill you.” Or chase you away.

The psychic sighed. “I can handle John.” Reaves tossed the magazine aside, resting his elbows on his knees. “You should have listened to me on the hunt, Deuce. And you should have stayed out of it last night.” The last thing Dean needed was to be in the middle of another war, especially when he’d just come out the ultimate loser in the one between his father and brother.

“I thought all the screaming and yelling would at least stop once he was...” He glanced up at Caleb. “You know?”

Reaves looked away, unable to face the immeasurable hurt he saw filtering through that gaze like harsh light penetrating sea glass. “Old habits are hard to break, Deuce. Things will settle down. Give it some time.” Time healed all wounds.

“God, I miss him.” Except for maybe ones that broke your heart, tore away part of your soul.

Reaves knew what the admission cost his friend, and Caleb couldn’t not face him. “It’s not like he’s dead, Dean. It’s not like your mom."

"It almost seems like that...only worse." He swallowed thickly. "Dad's acting the same, and this time, I don't have a job to focus on."

Caleb sighed, saying the only thing he could think of. "He’ll be back. Hell, we can go drag his ass back anytime the mood hits us.” He tried for a grin. “Or you could go crash his new place. Sign up for a fraternity. Let some pretty college girls get a hold of you for a change instead of demon dogs.”

The kid sighed, appreciating the life line, but not able to reciprocate. “I’m not going anywhere, Damien.”

Caleb nodded, frowning. “That makes two of us.” He exhaled, loudly, slapping Dean on the leg. “Still, Man, we could take a road trip? Soak up some Cali sunshine and make sure Sammy is at least venturing out of the library to eat. Give G.I. John time to work through his "issues"-as Dad likes to call them.”

Dean chewed his bottom lip, and Reaves didn’t even need to brush through his whirling thoughts to know what he wanted to say, to know that he wanted to see his brother so badly that it was eating a hole inside of him. It might have only been a month, but Dean had never been away from his brother for more than a week.

However, the light knock quashed his reply, and both boys looked up as John Winchester opened the door, lingering in the entranceway like a spirit. “So…it’s morning.”

Music wafted in from one of the other rooms and Dean recognized the familiar tune. He sighed.

I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair. Full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair.”

His dad looked worn and like he hadn’t been granted one moments peace through the night. Caleb and Dean exchanged looks. “Yeah. Shouldn’t you be back in your coffin?” Reaves spoke, with a hint of a grin.

“Keep it up, smart ass.” John pointed a finger to his own face. “I could black that other eye for you.”

“Sucker punches only work the first time, Dad.” Dean replied, when the other hunter merely shook his head.

Beneath the stains of time, the feelings disappear. You are someone else, I am still right here.’

Winchester stepped into the room. “Bobby heard talk of a possible Wendigo out near Silver Rocks, Colorado, near Vale.” The older hunter’s mouth twitched, dimples hinting on each cheek. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I know how you boys love camping.”

Reaves kicked back in the chair, propping his scuffed boots on the bed. “It’s October, Jarhead. There’s already snow in Colorado.”

“You sound like your daddy now. You afraid of a little frostbite?”

What have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know, goes away in the end.’

Caleb looked at Dean. It was his call. Hunting Bikini-clad California chicks sounded like a paradise compared to freezing their asses off trudging through the woods searching for a soulless monster. But even as pissed as he was at John, he could feel the tug of the invisible reins, knew the bridle was twice as tight for the younger hunter.

Green eyes met his. “I hear snowboarding kicks ass.”

The words were so Dean, that Caleb couldn’t keep the shit-eating grin off of his face. Maybe they had reached some sort of lull in the storm. “After we toast the hairy Gumby, I’ll spring for a few nights at a lodge.” Reaves glanced at John. “Nothing with freaky animal heads hanging on the walls either.”

And you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.’

The older Winchester snorted. “It’s your money, Junior, but don‘t expect to get my ass on one of those fiberglass deathtraps.”

“Don’t worry, Johnny, there’s an age limit. We wouldn’t want you to break a hip or something.”

John shook his head. “Start getting your stuff together. We’re burning daylight.” With that he was gone and Dean could feel Caleb's eyes on him once more.

"We could still head out to Palo Alto first?"

If I could start again, a million miles away. I would keep myself. I would find a way.’

Dean shook his head. "No. We have a job to do." It was time he took his own advice. It was time he let go. He needed to find a way to heal. They all did.

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