The Heart is a Battlefield
“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.”
“Put some goddamn pressure on that before you ruin my rug.” Bobby shoved a towel at Caleb, slamming the bathroom door behind them. Caleb could hear John’s stern voice from the bedroom down the hallway along with Dean’s softer counter.
“Forgive me for hemorrhaging in your humble abode.” Caleb winced as he pressed the cloth over his arm. He blinked a few times, his eyes adjusting to the bright lights of the vanity. Only a few minutes before he had been in a dead sleep, bone tired from three days of hunting for the werewolf. Maybe he was still tangled up in Dean’s dream. He should have stayed at Auburn for the long weekend.
Bobby reached above the commode, pulling peroxide and alcohol down from the shelf. He was wearing an ancient plaid robe over boxers and knee socks. His hair was sticking up the way it did on the rare occasion the mechanic wasn't wearing a ball cap. Caleb caught the glint of gray weaved in with the brown. “What the hell were you thinking, Junior?”
Caleb wasn’t thinking. If he had used his head he wouldn’t be dripping blood on Bobby’s bathroom floor. It was his instincts that got him in trouble and his fucked up abilities. It had been his great psychic gift that woke him from the arms of REM, cueing up the adrenaline that over ran his common sense and basic survival instincts. Caleb ignored a very important rule of hunting. Watch the hands. Hands kill.
“I was trying to get there in time.”
“In time for what?” Caleb didn’t realize he had spoken out loud. Bobby was standing in front of him, waiting for an answer.
Caleb shook his head, looking down at the floor. Bobby had a hole in his sock, his big toe peaking out. “Deuce was dreaming. He was having a nightmare.”
“About last night’s hunt?” Bobby gripped Caleb’s wrist, tugging him closer to the sink. He lifted the towel. “You were snooping in his head?”
“Not intentionally.” Caleb pulled his arm back. It wasn’t like he had the option of turning off his internal Winchester Alarm System while he was sleeping, especially when it was kicked into overdrive. “You don’t understand.”
"I understand if your reflexes were a little slower Mac might have been planning your funeral instead of a surprise graduation party for the spring."
Caleb met Bobby’s gaze. The mechanic wasn’t pulling any punches. He was right. Things could have gone much worse. Deuce could have been on top of his game, instead of dazed from the pain meds. Caleb could have registered what was happening a moment too late.
“I wanted to protect him.” Saving Dean was second nature, like breathing.
“You were trying to spare him the instant replay with the werewolf.” Bobby reached for his arm again, his touch lighter this time as he guided Caleb’s hand over the sink before uncapping the peroxide.
That was exactly what Caleb had been trying to do. He clenched his fist, watching the pink foam slide down his fingers as Bobby poured the antiseptic over the wound. It didn’t make sense. The sight of his own blood didn’t have his stomach in knots, whereas seeing Dean’s left every nerve end in his body quaking for revenge. When Caleb was alerted to the nightmare through his link with the fifteen year old, he had not been cognizant of anything else but getting to Dean in time. Caleb had failed him during the actual hunt; he could at least free him from the pain of reliving it.
Dean’s injuries scored him prime space in Bobby’s spare room. Caleb flipped Sam for the old sofa Bobby kept shoved in the corner across from the guest bed. It was faux leather with several springs poking through in precarious places. Sam won the toss getting the better deal with the air mattress, even if he had to share with Lola on the floor.
Caleb tripped over the dog and Sam when Dean cried out in his sleep. Deuce was sitting up in bed, breathing hard, shaking. Caleb was focused solely on the fear flowing through their shared psychic thread, the way Dean’s eyes were wide with panic-the pain he could sense even through the haze of the drugs. He didn’t look at Dean’s hands, never once thought of the blade Dean kept under his pillow until it was too late.
All it took was Caleb reaching out to touch Dean. His best friend yelled, reacting instantly to what he perceived as a threat. The teen was still caught in his nightmare, locked in battle with a werewolf. The knife came up in one fluid motion before Caleb could even speak Dean’s name.
Caleb managed a block, his arm taking the brunt of it. He grabbed Dean’s wrist. The two of them were locked in a wrestling match over the blade when John barreled into the room, alerted by Sam’s shouting.
“I suggest you come up with a better excuse before The Knight gets in here and wants to know what the hell happened.”
“Fuck John.” Caleb’s shock was quickly being replaced by his earlier ire. A fiery pain from the wound in his arm fueled his emotions of betrayal. “For that matter, fuck you.”
“Nice.” The mechanic put the peroxide down, rifling through the first aid kit for the supplies he’d need. “So much for the last five years of higher education. You still have the uneducated man’s mouth. Mac should have listened to Jim and sent you to that private Bible College in Tennessee.”
Caleb snorted at the hypocrisy of Bobby shaming him for his language. “You know what they say-you can take the boy out of the junkyard, but you can’t take the junkyard out of the boy. I’ve spent too much time in these hallowed halls.”
“Don’t blame me for your foul mouth.” Bobby dropped the suture kit, tape and bandages on the counter. “That dog won’t hunt.”
“You’re right. Why be petty? Plenty of other stuff to blame you for.”
Bobby ignored the jab, turning Caleb’s hand so he could look at the cut in the light. It ran the length of Caleb’s left forearm, deeper near his wrist where the blade had entered, before spreading out in an arc over the fleshier center. The bleeding had slowed, but it would need stitches. The mechanic sighed. “Lucky for you this didn't go any deeper”
Caleb kept his eyes on the mirror in front of him. “Yeah. Lucky me. Lucky Deuce. We’ve both had one hell of a night.”
“I get it. You’re pissed at me.” Bobby glanced up meeting the younger hunter’s gold gaze in the glass. “Get over it.”
A soft knock on the door interrupted what would have been Caleb’s colorful counteroffer. Sam peaked inside without waiting for an invitation. Lola, Bobby’s Rottweiler nudged her block head between the kid and the door, giving a soft whine at being left out of the excitement. “You okay?” Sam asked.
“I think the patient will live,” Bobby said.
“I’m fine.” Caleb pulled his shoulders back, forced a crooked grin for the kid’s benefit. “Doctor Singer’s working his magic.”
“Doctor Singer performs better without an audience.” Bobby pointed to his dog. “Lola, bed. Sam-scram.”
Lola obediently disappeared, but Sam stepped across the entranceway so half his body was taking up space inside the cramped room. He folded his arms over his puffed out chest, offering Bobby a challenging glare. Pushing boundaries was the pre-teen’s new thing. He shoved his hair out of his face, scanning Caleb to see if they were being honest with him. “Dean is worried.”
“He just stabbed his best friend.” Sam’s scowl momentarily deepened, but his face softened when he met Caleb’s gaze. “He wants a face to face confirmation you’re not dead. Dad told him he had to stay off the knee and gave him another Percocet.”
“How very John.” Bobby ripped bandages open. “Tell your brother Dr. Singer is on the job and I’m billing him for his buddy’s late night stitching. After hours procedures are expensive.”
“Tell Deuce I’m fine.” The last thing Caleb wanted was for Dean to feel even guiltier. “Just a scratch, Sammy.”
Sam gazed pointedly at Caleb’s stained t-shirt and sweats before directing his attention to Bobby. “What should I do with the bloody sheets and blanket?”
“Throw them down in the basement. You can wash them tomorrow.”
“Me?” Sam’s tone went high, something that was happening more often as his voice changed. “I didn’t do anything. I was asleep.”
“There’s a clean set and a spare quilt in my closet.” Bobby ignored Sam’s indignant glare as he laid out the suture kit. “While you’re in there grab the bottle of Jim Beam from my nightstand.”
“Give the doctor what he wants, Runt.” Caleb inclined his head to the needle in Bobby’s hand. “Let’s keep him happy and his touch steady.”
“The drink’s not for me. I hide the liquor when I have certain company.” He looked at Sam. “Fix an Irish Coffee for your Daddy. It might keep him from killing his protégé.”
“Our lives are so screwed up.” Sam closed the door behind him.
“He just now figuring that out?” Bobby used his foot to bring down the lid of the commode, gesturing for Caleb to sit. “Adolescence is going to be fun to watch from a distance-like a huge forest fire.”
"Serves Johnny right.” Relieved of his weight, Caleb’s legs felt limp. He stretched them out, resting his injured arm, wrist up, across his thigh.
“We both know John ain’t the one you’re really pissed at, Kid.” Bobby picked up the suturing needle. “Self-loathing is a passion of yours.”
“I didn’t cause this.” Caleb shifted to avoid Bobby’s hairy knees as the mechanic took a seat on edge of the tub adjacent to him.
“John isn’t the one who rushed in to play hero, Junior.” Bobby leaned over to get started. Caleb saw the pink skin of the bald patch on the back of his head. “You know the kid sleeps armed and is quick as they come.”
“So you’re saying this is my fault?” Caleb tried not to flinch as the bite of the first stitch had his eyes watering.
“I’m saying that you tend to let your heart get the better of you.” Bobby glanced up. “Same as I was trying to explain during the hunt.”
“You call knocking the shit out of me explaining?” It had been a cheap shot, a slap more than a punch, but it had made Caleb’s ears ring. Caleb had sensed the danger Dean was in as the wolf attacked, and despite being ordered to hold his position, he’d tried to abandon his post to rush to John and Dean’s location. The mechanic had stepped in his way, not allowing him to breach protocol. The Knight had radioed they were fine, all was going as planned. Caleb’s senses told him otherwise.
“Sometimes Alpha Dog is the only language you boys seem to understand.”
Caleb bit his lip, blinking as Bobby stitched the deepest part of the gash. “I’ll let you explain that to Pastor Jim next time we’re at the farm.”
“The Guardian card comes out.” Bobby snorted. “I want to see you play that one with John in this situation.”
“Jim would be pissed. I should have been point with John, Dean covering our sixes with you. I could have handled the furry, but you and John wanted Dean out there. You set him up.” Caleb had figured it all out a little too late, but in retrospect it all made sense. It was so similar to the hunt that had provided him with his first encounter with a werewolf, his first hard kill. “Your brilliant plan almost got Deuce killed.”
“John was in the position to take the wolf if Dean hadn’t been able to do it.”
“The wolf was on top of him. It practically had Dean’s throat in its mouth.” He had been forced to watch the scenario from the teen’s perspective as it replayed in Dean’s nightmare. Caleb had made it to the clearing right after the gunshots, in time to help John pull the wolf off Dean. All Caleb had been concerned about was the blood on Dean, the possibility that the kid could have been infected. It was an instant death sentence. The thought of it had him swallowing hard, breathing through his nose to stave off a wave of nausea.
“That’s not how it happened and you know it.” Bobby kept his voice low, but insistent. He never looked up. “There was no imminent danger.”
“Right, because Dean got the cracked ribs and wrenched knee by frolicking in the forest with Lassie.”
“It’s not the first time the boy’s gotten knocked around. It’s all part of the hunt.” Bobby glanced at him. “Analyzing the ‘what if’s’ will make a man crazy.”
“John is crazy. None of this would have happened if not for his warped strategy. He put us all in this situation by manipulating Dean.” Caleb should have known something was amiss when John was less than thrilled that Caleb had decided to come to Bobby’s over the long President Day weekend. It had been a last minute decision, a chance to celebrate Dean’s birthday that had come and gone a couple of weeks before when Caleb was knee deep in an important school project.
“You so sure it was John’s strategy?” Bobby kept stitching. “He might be in charge of training hunters, but he sure as hell ain’t the General of this army.”
Caleb felt the blow as sure as if Bobby had struck him on the side of the head. “You’re telling me Jim orchestrated this? This whole setup was his idea?”
Bobby glanced up from the task at hand. “Who do you think decides when its time for you to start dealing in the big leagues, to take off the rookie gloves?”
Caleb had always assumed as The Knight John had chosen Caleb’s baptismal hunt. “Jim did this?”
“Did I stutter?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Because I’ve lied to you so often.” Bobby stopped what he was doing with a heavy sigh. He stared at Caleb. “Look, Kid. I love the preacher. He’s a fine man, a damn good Guardian. But he likes to sugar coat The Brotherhood for you boys with all his fairytale shit about mythical dragons and noble knights. When it comes right down to it, James Murphy is in the business of turning out fucking soldiers. Well trained soldiers have to be able to kill when they need to without thought, without a moment’s hesitation. That sure as hell doesn’t happen by accident. It takes practice, and I’m not talking about time on the shooting range.”
“Dean’s only fifteen, he’s not some recruit.”
“Around the same age as you were, Private.”
“Shit.” Caleb couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it all before. “You use werewolves for a reason. They morph back to human form after their dead.”
“It’s the first step. Easier to kill something that doesn’t look human. The creature changes back after it dies and you’re left to face the real enemy. Turns out he looks a whole hell of a lot like you.”
“Then you move to demons or shape-shifters.” Caleb rubbed his hand over his mouth, remembering his first exorcism with Bobby. He hadn’t even noticed the progression in his training. It appeared seamless, mere chance. “You have to know a guy can do the job before you invest real time in him-notch up the intensity of the training.”
Bobby nodded. “The top players look like us, on the outside they seem human. One of the biggest weapons the enemy has against us, because no matter how history paints it, it’s not in our nature to torture and kill our own kind. Hunters, just like soldiers, can’t afford that kind of morality hang up.”
“That’s fucked up, man.”
“That’s desensitization, Junior. Key military strategy. Something every Guardian in the history of The Brotherhood has excelled at, including James Murphy.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Caleb was sure a part of him must have understood the cold hard facts all along although experiencing it first hand hadn’t offered the clarity of witnessing Dean’s initiation.
“Because if you’re going to be throwing accusations around, you need to know what the hell you’re talking about.” Bobby rubbed his beard. “And because if you’re going to make it easier for Dean and for Sam later on, you need to understand it for yourself.”
Caleb looked at his hunter’s ring, blood stained silver. “I liked the dragon and knight story a whole hell of a lot better.”
“Don’t misunderstand, Junior. Jim Murphy believes that story. The best hunters buy into some version of it.” Bobby waited for Caleb to meet his gaze. “The Guardian is only one man. He has to make sure his people can not only take care of the innocents, but watch out for themselves. As much as he might like to- iJim can't fight all the battles for those boys. Neither can you.”
Caleb knew Bobby was drawing parallels, needed for him to understand them. “He wants to protect us.”
“We all want to save the people we love, Kid-to get there with time to spare. Sometimes that’s an ugly business.”
Caleb didn’t get a chance to reply as John entered the room, not bothering to knock like his youngest son. Bobby went back to stitching, leaving Caleb alone with his revelation and red-faced mentor.
“What in the hell were you thinking, Junior?” John picked up the bloodied towel from the sink, throwing it against the wall above just Caleb’s head. “Do you have any idea how bad this could have been?”
“Bobby filled me in,” Caleb said. He couldn’t garner the energy to be pissed at John. “I think I see things a little more clearly now.”
“Is that so?” John leaned against the sink, crossing his arms over his chest. He had been prepared for a defense. “Bobby has discovered a way to get through that thick skull of yours?”
“Seems we speak the same language,” Bobby said.
John frowned at the back of the mechanic’s head. “Maybe the kid’s just suffering from blood loss?”
“Nope. Your protégé got lucky. A few more stitches and he’ll be good as new.”
“My protégé was lucky my son didn’t give him a Columbian Necktie.” John kicked Caleb’s foot. “Hey! How many times do I have to tell you, Private? Watch the hands. Hands kill.”
“I get it,” Caleb said. “It’s all about the killing, Sir.”
“What?” John said. “You trying to be funny? You think your best buddy thought it was funny when he woke up with your blood on his blade?”
“No, Sir.” There was nothing funny about having your brother’s blood on your hands.
“You should have made sure Dean didn’t have his snuggy bear tucked into bed with him considering the amount of pain meds you fed him.” Bobby tossed the needle in the trash, reaching for the antibiotic cream. He sent John a sideways glance. “Lucky for all of us Dean didn’t decide to cuddle up to his Glock. That would have been tough to explain to The Scholar and Guardian.”
Caleb looked at John when his mentor didn’t come back with a quick angry retort. John rubbed his eyes, giving a heavy exhale. Under the bright illumination his skin gave off a gray tinged pallor. “Yeah. I guess we’re all a little off our game after last night.”
“The first human kill’s a bitch.” Bobby spread the ointment over the freshly stitched wound. He placed a thick bandage on top. “We all remember what that’s like.”
“Yeah, I remember.” John looked at Caleb. “It’s not fun for anybody.”
“Sam’s making you an Irish Coffee.” Bobby reached for the tape, tearing a long piece with his teeth. "Heavy on the Irish."
“I thought you were out of whiskey.” John yawned, his jaw cracking. Caleb noticed the fluorescents cast moon shaped shadows under The Knight’s dark eyes, highlighting the deep lines cracking the planes of his face. “You fucking hid it from me?”
Bobby fixed the bandage in place. Satisfied with his work, he turned towards John. “A man has to think of himself every once in a while.”
“Selfish bastard.” John looked at Caleb. “Where’s the spirit of brotherhood?”
Caleb pulled his injured arm into his chest, hand self-consciously covering the stark white bandage. “Bobby shares more than you, Johnny.”
“Right. All pearls of wisdom, I’m sure.” John grunted as he pushed off the sink, his back popping loudly. “Speaking of sharing…make sure you talk to Ace before you hit the hay. He needs to hear your typical spin on things.”
“You know what I’m talking about, Junior.” John moved towards the door. “Athewm has yet again made the world a safer place for all mankind. Astorim will be pleased. Yada, yada, yada.”
Caleb watched the door close, touching his silver hunter’s ring. “Johnny doesn’t believe in the story. He thinks it’s a stupid fairytale.”
“If you haven’t figured it out yet, Kid, John can be an ass.” Bobby slapped his knee. “But I remember a time when he spun a decent yarn about how Belac had saved the day. It nearly brought a tear to this old Troll’s eye.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Caleb looked at Bobby. It had been after Caleb came off the adrenaline rush of his first werewolf hunt, after they had burned the corpse of the girl Caleb had killed. “That wasn’t a fun time for anybody.”
“He’s right about one thing, though. You need to watch the fucking hands, Junior.” Bobby got up, cinching the belt of his robe tighter around his waist. “They’re deadly. Keep a close eye on your heart while you’re at it. The real war is always raging inside you.”
Caleb smirked. “You and Johnny really should write that shit on some cards.”
“Hallmark doesn’t have a market for our pearls of wisdom, Smartass.”
“It could be a new line,” Caleb stood, flexing his fist. “Life’s a Battlefield, Don’t Get Killed.”
Bobby shook his head. “Five years of college and that’s the best you can come up with?”
“Give us some time and I’m sure Deuce and I can probably compose a decent lyric.”
“Right.” Bobby gestured him out the door. “Make sure you pop a couple of Percocet before you get started-doctor’s orders. It’ll improve the quality.”
“I will.” Caleb lifted his arm, giving a slight nod. “Thanks.”
Caleb watched Bobby head towards the kitchen to join John. He wasn’t sure if he’d caught a glimpse of regret in the mechanic’s eyes. It was hard to tell in the shifting light, the hallway not as bright and revealing as the bathroom had been. Caleb had enough of his own remorse.
It didn’t help matters that Dean looked much too young propped on the bed with pillows, blankets piled on top of him, his wrapped leg elevated out from under the covers. His eyes were closed, but he quickly stirred when Caleb walked into the room.
“Damien.” The teen sat up straighter his arm moving protectively to his side. “You’re alright.”
“Of course I am.” Caleb took a seat on the edge of the bed. He was glad the room was dark, hiding the blood stains on his clothes. “This is me we’re talking about.”
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“You know-the usual.” Caleb was getting really sick of that question. He scooted back on the bed so he could rest against the headboard, his shoulder brushing against Dean’s. “Give Deuce a birthday present to remember by letting him stab me. Piss Johnny off so I’ll be running maneuvers during my entire spring break next month. You know I live for the drama.”
Dean gestured to the bandage on Caleb’s arm. “I could have killed you, man.”
“Not possible. I’m way stronger and way faster than your scrawny ass.”
“Stop joking. It's not funny.”
“Not tonight, but by the time I see you guys again you’ll have come up with all kinds of ways to aggravate me with it.”
“What is wrong with us?” Dean’s green eyes were wide, glassy and impossible to ignore even in the dim light. Caleb had seen that look before. The wolf had morphed quickly after the silver bullet ended its life. Dean had witnessed the process before, but he’d never been the one left holding the smoking gun. To give the kid credit, he’d held it together. Caleb was the one who freaked out afraid the creature had gotten a bite of Dean. He understood now John was right not to want him on the hunt. Caleb was going to have a hard time accepting Dean as a fellow hunter, and not a charge he was sworn to protect.
He leaned his head against the wall, turning to look at Dean. He pushed all his doubts down, willed his fear away. Sometimes love drove a man to do crazy things, like let his son become soldier. It could make a lie seem justified. “Nothing’s wrong with us, Kiddo. We’re okay.”
“How can you say that? I killed somebody tonight, Damien. I nearly gutted my best friend.” Dean’s voice shook.
“Dude, I dropped my guard and got what I deserved. You, you killed a monster tonight.” Caleb licked his lips. “You’re a hero.”
“I don’t feel like a hero.”
“Not right now. Give it time. You’ll just have to trust my judgment until then.” Caleb would have to trust Bobby’s and John’s. “We’re the guys in the white hats in this story. You’ll never know how many lives you saved by killing that bastard.”
“It was different than what I thought.” Dean picked at the leather bracelet on his wrist. “The wolf was one thing…but when he changed. I can’t get that guy’s face out of my head.”
“Dude, just because the wolf’s wearing sheep’s clothing doesn’t mean he’s not deadly.” Caleb didn’t tell Dean he could pick up a piece of paper and pencil at this very moment and sketch the woman he’d killed nearly eight year before in perfect detail-right down to the tiny scar in the crease of her chin.
“I know but…”
“Look at it this way, Kiddo. You set him free. No human would want to live their life as a monster.”
Dean exhaled heavily, leaning more of his weight against Caleb’s shoulder. “I don't know if that makes us the good guys."
"Maybe not, but if we don't do it, who will?” Caleb knew Dean’s heart as well as he did his own. They shared similar weakness, loved with the same fierceness. “There are a lot of baddies out there, and not a lot of hunters. We both know what it’s like not to have someone get there in time. It’s our job to protect the people that can’t protect themselves.”
Dean looked at him. “To save innocents like our moms, like Sammy.”
Caleb nodded. “No matter what it takes.”
Dean held his gaze, the stormy green calming. "Just like the dragons in Pastor Jim's fairytales."
Caleb wanted to believe in Jim’s story, but more importantly he wanted Dean to believe in it, if just for a little while longer. He lifted his arm, tossing it over the teen’s shoulder.
“Yeah, Athewm. Just like that.”