Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.”-

Woodrow T. Wilson

“Damn, Hollywood, what happened to your face?” Caleb Reaves moved through the doorway of the cheap motel, shoving past Dean Winchester who had opened the door for him. “I thought the PA job was a sweet deal?”

Dean closed the door with a smirk, eyeing the two pizza boxes and six pack in the older hunter's arms. “It was, and the food was a whole hell of a lot better than what comes with this hunting gig.”

Caleb laughed, putting the food and beer on the table. “You're just mad because you don't get laid by leading ladies at the end of a hard day.”

“Who says I don't?” Dean grabbed one of the bottles, and opened it. “This is me we're talking about.”

Reaves slid out of his jacket, tossing it on the bed. “Where's the runt?”

Dean gestured to his face which was a startling array of black and blue. “He went to get some ice. Thinks I'm going to let him play Doctor Winchester.”

Reaves grabbed the younger man's chin and let out a low whistle. “Looks like he needs to.” Caleb let him go. “The B-movie chick into S&M or what?”

Despite the joking tone, Dean easily read the concern and sensed the question still hanging between them. Caleb wanted an answer. He and Sam had tried to avoid the interim-Knight. For one, they were trying to be as invisible as possible. After the two botched jobs in Tennessee, Dean was still wary of involving those close to him in the giant mess of their lives. Plus, he really didn't want to explain the Green River plan to Caleb, which only left him one option. “So, what are you doing here?”

Reaves frowned. “I called Sammy to check in, on my way back to New York. He told me where you were, although I got to say he made it damn difficult by the lame directions. I had a feeling you two might not want me around, so I wasted no time getting here.”

Dean smirked. “That sounds about right.”

Caleb raised a brow, hoping for an explanation. “I had to bribe him to get him to tell me what town you were in.”

“So he wanted dinner. He always suckered you into that.” He was surprised his brother gave in, perhaps Sam was sensing trouble and wanted to see Caleb. “He still plays you like a fiddle. It's sad, really.”

Caleb recognized the redirecting tactic. It was classic Dean. After all, he'd learned from the master. “I haven't heard from you all in a few days. You know the new rule, Deuce. No being out of touch. It's too risky. I thought you understood that after the whole thing in Cosby and back at Jim's farm.”

Reaves was still fishing. Dean took another pull from the beer, refusing to take the bait. He sat down on the bed, wincing as bruises made themselves known. He wasn't in the mood to get into a discussion about the favor for Deacon. “We picked up a job after leaving L.A. Just finished it up. No big deal.”

“Really?” Caleb leaned against the table, arms crossed over his chest. “That how you got your face rearranged?”

“Nothing a good night's sleep and a few more of these won't fix.” He lifted the amber bottle in a toast. “Don't worry, Damien. No permanent damage.”

Reaves was about to call bullshit but the door opened again and in breezed Sam. He had a bucket of ice and the familiar first aid kit. “Hey, man.” The younger Winchester moved to the small kitchenette and placed the ice in the sink before looking at Caleb again. “Dean telling you about our last job?”

“I was about to tell him about my career as the world's greatest PA.”

“You mean slave?” Sam caught on. A little part of him was itching to spill his guts to Reaves. Another part had begun to understand his brother's need to help Deacon, and was willing to allow the subterfuge. “Definitely a career option after this whole hunting thing is over.”

“I'm kind of interested in the work you've been doing since then.” Caleb jutted his chin towards Dean. “He looks like he's been an extra in a bad horror flick, not a behind the scenes guy.”

Sam looked at his brother, who was making a slashing sign across his neck, and then quickly back to Reaves. He tried to remember all the exercises he had been practicing to put his mental shields in place. “Same old, same old. We do a job; Dean gets thrown into a wall-knocked unconscious. It really is getting to be a bore.”

“Uh huh.” Caleb studied the brothers. “That's what you're expelling all that psychic energy to hide?”

“You're not supposed to read people without permission, Damien.” Dean pointed out.

“How many times has that been pointed out to you?”

“I'm a slow learner like you, Deuce.” Caleb stared at Sam. “But you're quick. I can't quite get what's going on in that freaky head of yours anymore. I have to say though; it hurts when the student betrays the teacher.”

“I'm not betraying you.” Sam frowned. “I'm just not choosing to share.”

“You don't have that option.” Caleb turned his gaze on Dean. “Don't tell me you two are planning on doing the solo thing again? You're not thinking you can somehow 'protect' me by leaving me in the dark? Because that's about as old as you getting your ass kicked over and over again.”

“I don't get my ass kicked.” Dean defended, even as the words had his jaw aching from use.

“We were in prison.” Sam caved and both older men turned to glare at him.

“Come again?” Reaves's gaze switched from Dean to Sam.

“It wasn't prison!” Dean said, heatedly.

“Yeah,” Sam joined in. “It was more like a county jail with lots of extra security. Not exactly the big house. I mean there were prison guards with guns and barbed wire around the fences, but…” Sam was chattering away casually as he filled a plastic bag full of ice and tossed it to his brother.

Dean had no choice but to catch the bag. He saw straight through his little brother's innocent act. Sam did the same thing with their father when he wanted to report on Dean without actually seeming like he was trying to tell. Sam didn't want to take the heat, and was looking to pass the buck. No wonder Sam wanted to be a fucking lawyer.

“How the hell did you two screw up and land in jail?” Caleb moved in front of Dean, restudying his injuries. “And who the fuck did that to your face?” If the police were responsible, there would be hell to pay.

“We didn't screw up.” Sam glanced towards Reaves. “It was all part of Dean's plan.” The younger Winchester didn't want Caleb to think they were idiots. But from the look his brother shot him, he wasn't helping matters very much.

“Plan?” Caleb blanched. He pinned Dean with a hard look. “You meant to go to jail? After months of busting our asses to keep you out of the joint, you buy a one way ticket into the place? What the hell were you thinking?”

“It wasn't a one way ticket, obviously.” Dean snapped back, standing, forcing Reaves out of his personal space. He tossed the empty beer bottle in the trash. “And I was thinking I was on a job.”

“You were on a job in L.A.!” Caleb replied. “This sounds like you were on a psychotic break.”

“I'm here!” Dean gestured to the room. “We made it out. No harm, no foul.”

Sam moved closer, annoyed that his brother was discounting everything they had been through. Even if he understood the sentiment behind the unusual job, he was still pissed at the actual way they had chosen to handle it. “If you count getting beat up twice, thrown in solitary confinement and being attacked by a psychotic ghost as no harm…”

“You shut up!” Dean pointed a finger at his younger brother. “I tried to get you to stay on the outside, but you wouldn't hear anything of it.”

Sam's face reddened. “Yeah, because hunting alone is such a smart idea under normal circumstances, let alone in a prison full of convicts.”

"I should have traded you for cigarettes!" Dean narrowed his eyes.

Caleb held up a hand to intervene, but he remained focused on Dean. “What if that fucking Fibbie had caught wind of your arrest? He could have…”

“He was thrilled.” Sam effectively cut into Reaves's tirade. "The guy is pretty sharp.” Might as well tell the worst of it. He turned and looked at the older psychic, ignoring his brother's slack-jawed indignation. “If not for the public defender we were assigned, he probably would have put Dean under the hot lamp.”

Caleb staggered slightly. “He was there? Hendrickson talked to you?”

“Talked. Yelled. Threatened.” Sam answered for his brother again. “It was all very Dragnet.”

Reaves rubbed a hand over his mouth, took a few steps away from Dean. “What the fuck, Dean?”

Dean stepped around Sam, physically cutting his brother out of the conversation. “Look, Caleb, it was for Deacon.”

Reaves's face remained blank. Dean tried to jog his memory. “Dad's friend from the Corp-the one who saved his life.” The older Winchester sibling knew Caleb had met the man in question when Sam was at Stanford. They had stayed at his place once while on a hunt with John. Both of them had listened to the stories the two older men told about their time in the service. It had struck a chord, resonated with their pasts.

But the explanation didn't seem to have the desired effect. The anger drained from Caleb's face, leaving something much worse.

“We owed him.” Dean tried again in a last ditch effort. “Winchesters pay their debts.”

“You both could have been killed…or worse.” Reaves shook his head, apparently not giving a damn about the debt in question. “You risked everything for some guy that served with Johnny back in the day.”

“We risk our lives all the time for a lot less,” Dean countered. “It comes with the territory.”

“Not recklessly.” Caleb growled. “We're always smart about it. We're always on the offensive. How the hell could we have backed you up in there? Dad couldn't have reached you in time. He's in Europe on some kind of Scholar business. Hell, I thought you were still in L.A. on vacation.”

Sam winced as the tension in the room rose. He couldn't block out both men's emotions. Maybe telling Caleb hadn't been the best move. “Guys? Maybe we should just eat? The pizza's getting cold.”

Both men ignored him. “People were dying in that prison.” Dean shouted, not liking the dressing down. “There was no time to do a fucking phone chain with The Triad.”

“You could have called me!” Caleb yelled back. “I could have done the fucking job.”

Dean threw his hands up. “What's the difference?”

Caleb stepped closer to the younger hunter, reaching out and grabbing a fistful of his shirt. “For one…I don't have a record. I'm not wanted for murder among countless other things. If you do get caught, Dean, if it ever went to trial…you'd fry. And that's if some gun happy rookie doesn't shoot you down in the street first. Does that even register in that thick skull of yours?”

“What registered was that one of Dad's friends needed my help. He wouldn't have turned his back, neither could I.”

Reaves gave Dean a rough shove. “You sure you were doing the job for Deacon? Or you still trying to square things with Johnny? I thought what happened at the farm changed things?”

Sam bit his lip. He had asked his brother the same thing…in a much more subtle way. He braced himself for the explosion and his brother didn't disappoint.

Dean threw the punch with practiced precision. Caleb took it. Sam was surprised the older hunter hadn't seen it coming. Reaves stumbled back, bumped into the chair and desk, but remained on his feet.

Caleb recovered quickly. Sam was afraid for a moment he would reciprocate the blow. He didn't relish in the idea of having to play referee.

Sam held fast to the fact he had never known Caleb to hit Dean, not in anger. But there was a first time for everything. Dean had never hit Sam either until after their father's death. John's absence had shifted all their equilibriums-changed the rules of the game. Sam was still trying to figure out his new role, along with everyone else's.

But the storm passed as quickly as it had picked up momentum. Caleb regained his senses as easily as his balance. He relaxed his fists, clenched his jaw tighter and moved around Dean towards the door. Sam started to say something, but the look Reaves gave him had him stepping out of the older hunter's way, unwilling to push his luck.

The door slammed with a bang that rivaled all the finality of a gunshot, and Sam risked a look at his brother. “That didn't go well.”

“Understate much, Rat.”


Dean rubbed at his throbbing knuckles. “You just couldn't wait to tell him. Could you?”

“I wasn't going to tell him. I'm on your side, you know.” Sam shook his head in frustration. “But so is he, damn it. We've tried it alone…you know that's not an option now-especially now.”

His brother didn't seem to hear him. “What were you hoping for? To what? Piss me off? Piss him off? Stir up a bunch of emotional shit that none of us needs-especially now.”

“I was trying to help.”

Again, his brother ignored his explanation.

Dean raked a hand through his hair. “Guess what, Sammy? You accomplished all three. Was it too much to ask that we just eat some pizza, get drunk off our asses and watch a baseball game?”

Sam took a deep breath, tried to find that elusive center he sought. Mackland had told him he needed to be able to find calm in the center of the fiercest storm. But Dean was more turbulent than any force of nature.

Sam had to admit a small part of him embraced the idea of Caleb siding with him against Dean to point out how ridiculous the nature of Deacon's hunt was, but mostly he wanted an ally in watching out for his brother. He wanted Reaves to tell them how to fix their most current dilemma, which included the very agitated Agent Hendrickson. “I'm worried about you, man. You take too many chances.” He frowned as he gestured to Dean's face. “You're willing to take any punishment to do whatever it is you think you're supposed to be doing.”

Dean swallowed thickly. God. Their lives were becoming one big Groundhog's Day. They had rehashed this over and over again. “You're pretty damn willing to add to that punishment if it suits your needs, little brother.”

Sam brought a hand up to rub at the knotted muscles in the back of his neck. Sometimes he just couldn't seem to get anything right. “I didn't mean to make things worse.”

The older Winchester looked towards the door. “Well, you did.”

“You going to go talk to him?”

“Do I have a choice?” Dean sighed. He glanced back at his brother before opening the motel room door. “If I'm not back in ten minutes, call an ambulance.”

Sam would do one better, he'd call Mackland.

As Dean walked towards the ominous black Chevy truck in the shadows of the street light, he was struck by the overwhelming desire to see his father. To hear his voice. He missed his Dad and being around Deacon had made it worse. Maybe his motives weren't as pure as he had hoped.

Caleb was sitting in the passenger's side of the truck, the door open, and his head resting against the seat. The outside of the vehicle had been washed, waxed, and meticulously detailed. Dean shook his head at the idea of Caleb actually cleaning a car. He'd probably paid someone to do it, knowing how John had felt about the vehicle. Or maybe it had more to do with the fact Dean and Sam knew how their father felt about the truck and Caleb knew he would be seeing them. Either way, it brought a rush of affection bubbling through the cracks in Dean's defenses.

“I don't know if it's safe for you to be that close to me, Dean.” Caleb was half joking. He had come close to lashing out at the younger hunter-something he had never done. Not even when Dean deserved it.

Caleb's gruff voice brought Dean from his musings. Dean leaned against the side of the Chevy, despite the terse warning. “Are you kidding? I've been in the joint, and compared to this guy Tiny, who tried to kick my ass, you're a feather weight.”

Reaves raised his head and looked at the younger hunter. “Do you really want to rub salt in open wounds?”

Dean shrugged, breathing in the scent of leather and gun oil that permeated the cab. Everything still screamed John, down to the Red Sox cap tossed up on the dash. “Just taking a page out of your book, man.”

Caleb looked at him. “I was making a point.”

Dean pointed to the red mark on the psychic's face. “Duly noted.”

Reaves shook his head. “Damn, you're a stubborn sonofabitch.”

“Again- pot calling the kettle black.”

Caleb sat up straighter, swung his body around to face the younger hunter. “You know what? I'm going to make this easy for you. I'm as much a part of this as you and Sam. And not just because of The Knight thing. Although I got to say, you two are really making me rethink the idea of a new career.”

“I think you'd like the PA thing.”

Reaves ignored the humor. “I've lost people, too. Jim, your dad…I'm not going to lose you two.”

“I'm sorry. I know Dad was important to you.” He had apologized to Sam, but had held off on doing the same to Reaves.

“Yeah. He was.” Caleb sighed wearily. Dean's kicked puppy look drained away the last of the anger fueling his mood. Now he was just tired. “But you shouldn't be sorry for what he did. Because I'm not.”

Dean's brow arched, but he remained silent.

“John was the bravest man I have ever known, most loyal, too. But he could be a selfish, driven bastard when he wanted to be. What he did for you…with that demon…that was the first time I was really proud of what he did-of who he was-instead of just being in awe of him.” He lifted his gaze to meet Dean's eyes. “I'm not going to lie. I miss him like crazy sometimes, man. I pick up the damn phone and start to call him before I realize…”

Caleb looked down for a moment, cleared his throat. “But I would have missed you a whole hell of a lot more.”

“I get what you're saying, dude…” Dean faltered, the stupid lump in his throat trying to choke him up. “But this is getting to be some serious shit. I don't know where to turn anymore. I have this feeling…“

“What kind of feeling?”

Dean stared at him. “Like I'm coming to the end of a very bad road.” He swallowed thickly. “Prison might be the better of the destinations around the bend.”

“Damn it, Deuce.” Caleb growled. “That's not going to happen. Good is going to prevail. Jim believed that. He had faith in us, and if you're so big on paying back a debt, that's the big one you should focus on. He believed in us, so did your Dad, and we're not going to let them down.”

Dean snorted. Sometimes Caleb surprised him. “You really believe that? Because that seems like a reach to me.”

Reach or not, Caleb had to believe it. He'd spent too many years worshiping at the feet of Jim Murphy and John Winchester to lose complete faith now. “Yes. I believe it. That's why I know they'd be royally pissed if they knew you were being so fucking reckless. Don't make their sacrifice meaningless. If you die…if you spend your life locked up in some fucking hell hole, then all their suffering has been for nothing.”

Dean sighed heavily. “I really did want to help Deacon save those people. It wasn't all about Dad.”

“I believe that.” Caleb nodded. “It was a dumb move, Deuce. But a brave one. John would have been proud.” Reaves laughed. “He'd would have kicked your ass for taking Sammy with you, but that's a whole other story.”

Dean grinned. “Yeah. He would have expected me to take you.”

“Damn straight. Man had no qualms about feeding us to the wolves.”

“You would have done it too." Of that Dean was sure.

Caleb shrugged. “Probably. I let him boss me around when it suited my purposes. If I get to watch your back, it would have been worth it.”

“It's not always about me or Sammy.” Dean favored him with a knowing look.

“Everything you do is driven by the whole 'all for one and one for all' shit. You think you owe Dad, Jim and Mac.”

Reaves frowned. What Dean was saying was true to a point. They were his Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. “They saved my life in a thousand different ways.” Caleb looked at him. “But they're not the ones I owe a debt to.”

Dean knew some day their steadfast loyalty to one another could become a hindrance. “You can't always watch out for me, Damien. Once that whole accolade thing happens Sam and the Guardian will be your main concern, not to mention every other hunter who wears a ring. People will be watching you, waiting for you to mess up.”

Caleb shook his head. He wondered how Dean would deal with the extra responsibility of not only Sam, but the other hunters who wore a ring. “You'll always be a priority, Deuce. Trust me.”

When Dean rolled his eyes Reaves reached out and shoved him. “But really I draw the line at prison. I like my ink as well as the next guy, but I'm not doing the whole-body tattoo thing, especially when it's something as lame as a prison blue print. If you end up on the inside, you're on your own.”

Dean laughed. “That's okay, because you don't owe me anything. As far as I'm concerned we're even.”

“I owe you more than you know.” Caleb replied without thinking, then groaned at the detour into Sam's Emo-land. He was tired of the whole teen-girl drama. Maybe they should just throw some more punches and get the testosterone flowing again. Maybe it would all change once Dean knew he was The Guardian. “And now that debt includes an ass-kicking for busting me in the mouth.”

“Bring it on, Damien.” Dean flashed him a shit-eating grin. “It wasn't the first time I've cleaned your clock.”

“True.” Caleb got out of the truck, slammed the door. “But I swear to God if you hit me again, I'll turn you into the fucking FBI myself then make sure you get set up with the ugliest, meanest sonofabitch in the joint as a cellmate.”

“Speaking of cellmates, you should have so seen the guy Sammy got stuck with. He made the Sasquatch look like Sprout from the Jolly Green Giant commercials.”

“Bet that made you rethink your brilliant plan?” Caleb raised a brow. Dean might not always consider his own safety, but Sam's was a priority.

Dean looked at him. “Now who's rubbing salt?”

Caleb raised his hands in surrender and started towards the motel. “Speaking of our little Sam. You realize he's the one who started this.”

The younger hunter nodded, accepting the truce. “The little shit wanted the pizza and beer for himself.”

Caleb stopped short of entering the motel room. “So, do I get the details of this latest gig over dinner?”

Dean frowned. Why give the man more to worry about. “What if I tell you about LA instead?”

Reaves seemed to consider the offer. “You really get lucky with Tara? In her trailer?”

“Of course.” Dean grinned. “This is me we're talking about.”

Caleb nodded. “Yeah. I know all about you, Deuce.” He sighed heavily, shoved the door open and held it for the younger hunter. “What the hell. Probably a better story than the warped Winchester version of Prison Break anyway.”

Dean preceded him in with a devilish grin. “Oh yeah. It's rated NC 17. The only sex happening in Green River was in Sammy's bunk mate's freaky fantasies.”

“I heard that.” Sam called out around a mouth-full of pizza.

Caleb glanced over his shoulder towards John's truck. “Thanks for watching over them, old man,” he whispered into the darkness before entering. That's another one I owe you.

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