“The Long Way Back” by Ridley C. James

“Once upon a time in a place far, far away, there was a magical Castle protected by powerful dragons.” Twenty-three-year-old Sam Winchester, rubbed at his weary eyes before letting his hand slide down his rough face, to rest near his brother’s lax fingers.

It had been forty-nine hours since they had arrived at the hospital, and still there was no change in his brother’s condition. Hopeful-was all the doctors would say. But hope was a rare commodity these days in the Winchester‘s world.

He glanced up at Dean’s pale, bruised and battered features, watched as the machines forced life-saving breath into his broken body, and continued on with the story. “The oldest of all his kind, the white dragon Astorim protected the sacred place, offering it as safe harbor to any who might be in trouble and in need of shelter.” The hunter’s troubled thoughts turned to Jim Murphy, the lost patriarch of the Brotherhood, and a watery smile graced his face. “One such person that Astorim afforded shelter to was a young, wayward prince named Samuel.”

The doctors had told Sam he should talk to Dean, provide a contact to the conscious world through words and touch. But amazingly enough, the youngest Winchester had run out of things to say hours ago. And with no books around, and no candy stripers in sight with magazines in tow, he’d settled in to regaling his brother with stories now. Sam found it natural to recount the tale that Pastor Jim had spun for him so many times through his childhood, especially considering his mind kept wandering to the kindly priest who had become the latest victim in the trail of evil that seemed to be his family’s legacy-their curse.

He and his brother had not processed Jim’s death, or Caleb’s alleged demise, before the demon struck again-taking over their father's body, nearly killing them all by using a semi-sized battering ram against the Impala. No-they hadn’t begun to deal with the loss, but it would take its toll…on all of them.

Picking up the older hunter’s hand once more, vowing to tell Dean it was a doctor-mandated chick-flick moment if he was ever called to the carpet on it, he sighed. Jim would want them to carry on. There was no other choice. “Samuel came to live in the castle when he was only a baby, flown there by an emerald green dragon named Athewm,” He explained, knowing if his brother were awake, he’d roll his eyes at the play on his middle name. “You see, Athewm was a Sentinel dragon, one that patrolled the borders of the castle, watching for any signs of distress, searching for those that might need help.”

“Legend has it that he rescued young Samuel from a terrible flame that came in the darkness of the night. It consumed the prince’s home and took his mother, the queen, but failed in killing the boy. The fire beast had tried to take Samuel also, but thanks to Athewm, the baby prince was snatched from the jaws of his would-be murderer and placed under the guard of the dragons.”

Sam swallowed thickly, tightening his hold on the cold fingers captured in his grip, and continued in a rough voice. “Athewm kept watch over the Prince as he grew, aided in his guardianship by the fiercest of all dragons, Oh’nathan Jay.”

The young hunter‘s mouth quirked at the thought of his father, which Jim had cleverly transformed in the tale. “Now Oh’Nathan Jay was a black dragon, and by nature the dark beasts are ones of few words, and fewer sentiments. But despite his sometimes aloof nature, Oh’Nathan Jay battled valiantly to keep Samuel from harm‘s way. He wanted the boy to grow up strong and capable, so that he could someday defend himself and perhaps help the dragons destroy the fire beast that had taken his mother.”

“For you see, Oh‘Nathan Jay had a great love for the queen.” The twenty-three year-old felt his eyes sting as the story unfolded in a way not too unlike the one he’d heard countless times as a boy. “It was a rare and true love rivaled only by the depth of understanding and concern that Athewm had for Samuel.” Sam swallowed hard again. “Sometimes the two loves were pitted against each other, and Oh’Nathan’s need for vengeance for his queen clashed with Athewm’s desire to protect the Prince.”

The young hunter’s voice trembled, as he failed to keep the emotions at bay-his defenses worn and shredded from the tireless vigil. “Athewm loved Oh’Nathan Jay, as the black dragon was his mentor and teacher, and like a father to him. But, alas, he loved the Prince more. Samuel had become his brother, his responsibility.”

“In the moment that he swooped in and rescued the swaddling from the flames, his path had been set. Keeping Samuel safe would be his destiny. But still… it always hurt Athewm when he was made to choose between the Prince and the black dragon. Because no matter how brave and valiant the green dragon was, his heart was his greatest weakness. His concern for others far outweighed his own sense of self-protection.”

“Fortunately for Athewm,” Sam reached up and raked his fingers through his brother’s hair, “there were others there to help him keep a reign on Prince Samuel and Oh’Nathan Jay. They looked out for Athewm when Samuel and Oh‘Nathan Jay did not.”

“Belac, was Athewm’s best friend. He was a guardian dragon also. His scales were blood-red like the darkest ruby, bright like the flames of the fire monster. And despite the belief by some that he was so because of being touched at birth by the evil beast that wreaked havoc on the land, Belac was nothing but faithful to the Dragons. And he was especially faithful to Athewm, and therefore Samuel also. He tried his best to protect them, when the other, older, dragons became caught up in battles. Even if he complained about it. A lot.”

Sam stopped talking, glanced towards the door. His mind traveled down the hallway to his father's room, where he psychically checked for the other familiar presence he’d grown use to over the last few days. A feeling of relief washed over him as he found what he was searching for, shuddered as he remembered how close that connection had come to being erased by the demon's daughter. They had all believed Caleb was dead.

He licked his dry lips, pushed aside the thoughts of Meg‘s horrific deeds, and turned back to his brother. “Belac could read minds, and feelings, but he was especially good at reading Athewm, which was particularly difficult task for most, even those closest to him. Therefore, Belac often navigated easily around Athewm’s moods and offered some sort of reprieve-a respite that the two closest to him could not. Sometimes, Belac even stepped in and stood up to Oh’Nathan Jay. Although, he, like Atewm, revered and honored the black dragon-looked to him for guidance.”

Sam sighed, squeezed his brother‘s hand again. “Sometimes it seemed that Samuel was the only one who didn’t see how special Oh’Nathan Jay was. He didn‘t understand that his obsidian heart only seemed hard because that was the role he had been dealt in life after the queen had perished. He was their front-line of defense. Their fighter. Their champion.”

“All Samuel saw was the fact that the black dragon constantly placed the other dragons in danger. Especially Athewm. Even when he swore to keep them safe, he seemed willing to sacrifice them to avenge the travesty that had befallen the queen. Sometimes Samuel believed that Oh‘Nathan Jay, himself committed the greatest wrong against them.” Sam rested his head against his brother’s arm. “Samuel couldn’t stand to see them hurt anymore-” he choked as the bitter taste of regret crept up the back of his throat, “couldn’t stand to see Athewm hurt…”

“So Prince Samuel fled the castle…to a land far away called Stanford,” a new voice added, and Sam jerked his head towards the doorway.

Caleb Reaves stood slouched against the pale concrete wall, his tall frame illuminated by the glowing lights streaming in from the hall behind him. “Sorry, I was always bad about giving away the ending.”

“That wasn’t the end.”

The older hunter slipped in, sidling up to Dean’s bed. He watched the respirator for a moment, then glanced back to Sam. “It was for the dragons. The castle kind of fell apart after that.” He waved his arm to encompass Dean. “Athewm kind of fell apart.”

Sam continued to watch him, his throat still tight from hearing his agonizing thoughts tossed out so casually. “I didn’t do it to hurt anyone-especially Dean."

Reaves sat on the edge of the bed, crossed his arms over his chest, “Didn’t say you did.” Still, those years that Sam had been gone were hard to think about. John changed. Dean changed. And neither for the better.

“But you don’t think I should have gone?”

The older hunter sighed. “I didn’t say that either.” He held Sam’s gaze, then his brow furrowed. “Didn’t we already have this conversation? At Stanford a few years back?”

Sam thought about the time he came home to find Caleb camped out in his dorm room. He had been so afraid that he had come to tell him that Dean and his father were dead. “Yeah, I guess we did.”

"Thought so," Reaves gaze traveled to Dean. “We ended up in a similar situation back then. Didn’t we?”

Sam looked up at him. “We’ve been in situations like this too many times.”

“So you said,” Caleb tilted his head. “Or Prince Samuel said.”

“It was just a story.” Sam shrugged, “an old man’s bedtime story.”

“Right,” Caleb breathed, rubbing at his stiff neck. He considered the set of the kid’s jaw, the hooded eyes, and decided to let it go. He jutted his chin towards the unconscious hunter. “So…how’s Athewm doing?”

The younger hunter cleared his throat, released Dean’s hand so he could straighten up in his seat. “Same.”

Reaves frowned, then reached out to let his fingers rest against Dean’s leg. The psychic closed his eyes and Sam watched his face as he concentrated.

Caleb hadn’t changed much in the last two years. But his black hair was shorter, cut similar to Sam’s now. He had a faint shadow of a beard on his chiseled face, making him look like he’d planned it that way to give himself a mysterious, brooding appearance. It worked. The hunter looked dark and dangerous-which he was.

Despite the hunter lifestyle, Caleb looked closer to Dean’s age than his actual thirty-five years. And when he finally opened his eyes and the familiar green-gold gaze locked on Sam and a hint of a dimple flashed at the side of his mouth, the younger hunter was struck, not for the first time, by the idea that Caleb could have easily passed as John Winchester’s brother. Which was amusing, considering he often passed himself off as just that. “Don’t worry, runt. He’s still in there.”

Sam nodded, pulled his attention and thoughts from the other man. He let his hand rest on his brother‘s once more. “Is he going to wake up soon?”

“Do I look like Mackland?” Caleb snorted. “That’s a question for the doctor in the family, I’m afraid.”

Winchester looked at him again. “You can’t sense that?”

“No.” Caleb tapped his head. “But I did sense you checking up on me earlier.” He grinned to take away the chagrined look on the other hunter‘s face. “You’re getting better, kind of like a sledgehammer now, instead of a wrecking ball.”

Sam sighed. “Sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it.” Reaves glanced down at his hands, twisted the silver ring around his finger. “We’ll just call it paybacks from that whole Raw Head deal. Besides the more you practice, the better you‘ll get.” He looked at Dean again. “I could even teach you how to do that with him, too, you know. Read him. Communicate-like I use to do with you when you were kids.” His slight smile morphed into his typical half-assed grin. “But I got to warn you. Deuce’s head is one scary place.”

Winchester shook his head. “No. I might do it wrong…hurt him.”

Caleb nodded his understanding. “Don’t blame you for being scared.” He teased, but he knew all too well about the pitfalls of learning their shared craft. Reaves still wished John would have handled Sam‘s situation differently. If he‘d had training when he was younger, before his abilities had become active, things might have been different-perhaps easier. As it was, Sam would probably be stuck with the old trial by fire method. The story of his life.

“How’s Dad doing?” Sam’s question brought Reaves’ distant gaze back to him.

“He’s doing better. The doctor came in right before I headed this way. He said he could come down and sit with Dean after his lunch.” The older psychic glanced towards the door. “Speaking of which…you could take a breather, man. Get some real food. I’ll even treat.”

Sam shook his head. “No. I’m not leaving him. I need to be here when he wakes up.”

The older hunter took a deep breath, let it out heavily. “This wasn’t your fault, Sammy.”

“Stop reading me, Caleb.” Winchester gave him a serious glare. “And it’s Sam.”

Reaves snorted. “I don’t have to read you to recognize that look on your face, Sam. You've somehow twisted this whole thing until it all folds in on your shoulders.”

“You weren’t there.” Sam said with a stubborn shake of his head. His eyes unconsciously went back to Dean‘s still form. “You didn’t hear what the demon said or…”

“Johnny filled me in on most of it.” Caleb raked his fingers roughly through his hair, as his mind conjured the scene in horrific detail. John hadn’t actually willingly shared anything. But it was amazing what pain medication and a semi-conscious state would do to a person’s mental defenses. It was the easiest John-snooping that Caleb had ever done. “And I had a front row seat for the car crash,” he added softly.

That image he hadn't gone looking for. But it had found him just the same. He could still recall the faint echoes of the vision that had alerted him to the accident. The one that had enabled him to call Bobby, to get help there before the cops towed the Impala. If only he could have reached the Winchester's in time...

Brown eyes met his gaze, and he was surprised to feel Sam’s presence pressing against his conscious-trying to process his mood. The kid was a fast learner. "We were out of cell range, you know."

Reaves nodded, his lips quirked slightly. "Forget Jim's rule about reading without permission?"

Sam grunted, rolled his eyes. "Like you ever obeyed that rule."

"I want better for you, young Padawan."

Winchester ignored the typical subterfuge. “Did you figure out who Meg killed in Lincoln, when she was on the phone with Dad? I mean, he thought it was you.” They had all thought it was him. Another slice of their life, ripped away. Dean wouldn't talk about, even when Sam had tried.

“Yeah, I know.” Caleb swallowed thickly, nodded. “He made Bobby douse me with Holy water, and draw one of his freakin’ circles around me, before he’d buy that it was really ‘me’ standing in his hospital room. Damned if Cooter didn't get a big kick out of that.”

“So, who was it?” Sam pressed, both physically and psychically. “That died.”

Reaves winced, and he felt Sam back off. They definitely had to work on his finesse. “It was a guy named Daniel. He was a contact of mine in one of the cults that I keep tabs on.” The older hunter sighed, pinched at the bridge of his nose. “Damn demons can mimic voices, make a person believe what they want them to believe. Johnny was primed and ready after my phone call to him about Jim. Poor bastard, Daniel, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“I'm sorry.”

Caleb shrugged it off. "Casualties of war and all."

"Like Jim."

Reaves’ face hardened. “No." His fists clenched, involuntarily. "Jim was different. They wanted to hurt John-the Brotherhood. They're going to pay for that.” He held Sam’s gaze for a moment longer before letting his glance go back to Dean. “For this.”

Sam nodded. “Caleb?”


“What if he doesn’t wake up?”

“He’s going to wake up, Sam.”

Caleb couldn’t imagine any other scenario. The other side had drawn first blood, taken too much from them already. Dean wasn't going to be the next pawn to fall.

“I don’t think I can do this without him.”

The older hunter took his eyes from Sam’s bowed head, glanced towards the door, hoping someone would come to his rescue. No one came. “You won’t have to.”

“The doctor’s said…”

“I don’t give a fuck what the doctors said. They don’t know everything. And they sure don’t know Deuce if they think a car crash is going to take him out, after everything he’s been through. He’s got a job to do. He’s not finished yet.” He waited for Sam to look at him again. "We're not finished yet. You got that?"

"Yeah...I got it."

Caleb pushed himself up from the bed. "Good, because I have a feeling it's going to take all of us to keep John from going all Black-hearted dragon on us."

'And Jim won't be here to help.'

Reaves raised his brows as the other psychic's words echoed silently through his mind. He was surprised at how much the kid naturally picked up on now that he had realized that he was gifted, or cursed, depending on how you looked at it. It was like the proverbial light-switch had been thrown. "You know...they say old Merlin found a way to escape Death's clutches. That he was immortal."

A faint smile tugged at Sam's mouth. "Jim tell you that?"

The older hunter nodded. "Him and his fairytales."

Sam's grin faded and his gaze went to Dean. "Dean will really miss him."

"Me too." Caleb replied, bringing the youngest Winchester's slightly surprised eyes back to him. "But we'll do right by him. All of us. He won't be forgotten."

"I'm not going anywhere." Sam interjected, and Reaves sighed.

"Stop reading me, Sammy."

It was the younger man's turn to scoff. "I don't have to read you to know that look, Damien."

Reaves gaze involuntarily went back to the unconscious form before them, his chest tightening at the familiar nickname."Just make sure you don't."

"Don't worry. I'm home." Sam said thoughtfully, realizing what all it had taken for him to realize that. "I took the long way back, but I'm finally here." He squeezed his brother's hand. "Now, I'm just waiting for Dean to do the same."

"That reminds me," Caleb said, suddenly, drawing the younger man's attention once more. "Uhh...Bobby found this in the floorboard of the Impala."

Reaves reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an object wrapped in a grease-stained handkerchief. "Maybe it'll help."

Sam let go of his brother long enough to take the package. He felt tears sting his eyes as the cloth fell away and the cool, brass compass fell into his palm. "I can't believe he kept this thing."

"Neither can I." Caleb shook his head. "Damn piece of junk got us lost in the Ozarks once. Like to have frozen our asses off. I won't even tell you where I got frost bite." He sighed. "Figured you must have gotten it for him...seeing as how it didn't work and it had that sappy shit written on the inside."

Sam feigned a look of insult. "It came with that written in it, and it's not junk. It's an antique."

"Right," Reaves grinned, shoved the other man roughly. "Whatever you say, tough guy." He nodded towards Dean. "But if pretty poetry gets Deuce back any faster, I'll spring for the chocolate and flowers myself."

Sam held the compass, knowing good and well that it hadn't been Bobby who had found it. "Thanks, Belac. You're a good friend."

Caleb groaned. "I'm going back to Johnny's room before you break out in song."

The younger hunter watched him go, reassured by the fact that the old castle wasn't completely empty. He looked down at the compass, turned it over in his hand before placing it in his brother's lax palm. He laid his own hand over the cool metal, intertwined his finger's with Dean's and held on. "I'm here, big brother." Sam rested his head against their hands, closed his eyes. "Please come back home."

Uploaded by: Etta