Marked Time

By Tidia, October 2008

That Girl Six

Disclaimer: Supernatural belongs to Enterprise Productions and Warner Bros. Brotherhood AU is all Ridley.

Words: 30.350

A/N: Please remember that this is set a month before Dean's deal is due. Edge of Winter was set in the fall, so a lot has happened.


Chapter 1/7

As the sole grandchild to Cullen Ames, Caleb Reaves had access to the many properties the millionaire owned all over the United States. He arranged for himself and the Winchesters to use the place in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was off-season, so the island was quiet with plenty of green vegetation along the sides of the roads. The locals believed in keeping things as natural as possible, so the black Impala with its V-8 engine stood out in the otherwise quiet surroundings. However, Dean wanted to meet up and had no problem taking advantage of the fact that neither his brother nor Caleb were denying him much these days. Hilton Head was the equidistant location.

Sam and Dean had arrived late, greeted Caleb with a mumble, and gone to get some sleep. The next morning brought hunger and the quest for some food. With less than two months left to be with his family, Dean wanted the familiar.

"You just drove past the McDonald’s," Caleb commented from the backseat.

"What?" Dean glanced behind him, then in the rearview mirror, unable to discern where he had missed the driveway. Sam looked just as perplexed from the passenger seat.

"The sign has to blend in, so it can't be high or have golden arches." Caleb pointed out the back window to a large green plant where he showed them the corner of a brown stone-flecked sign.

Dean shook his head. "That's just wrong. The whole point of McD's is that they look the same, taste the same . . ."

"Same Ronald MacDonald," Sam added. "I like Wendy's."

"I wish Wendy was actually hot," Caleb stated his opinion, then flicked the back of Sam's head. "Didn't you have your father burn that Ronald MacDonald doll?"

Sam rubbed the spot on his head, glared at Caleb in shock, then diverted his attention to his brother. "You promised me you would never tell anyone."

Dean snorted. "You kidding me? All the times you narced me and you expected me to resist your Ronald McDonald breakdown? Man, it was a classic—too good to not share." Dean should have felt guilty. At the time he had tortured his brother with the doll that contributed to the phobia, as only an esteemed older brother could do.

"I saw it move. It was possessed." Sam crossed his arms, looking similar to the eight-year-old being adamant the doll was haunted and that it was either him or the doll that was leaving the apartment. Dad had given in, as he usually had when Sam was involved. John wasn't the best of fathers, but he had tried to provide a sense of security — a possessed toy was within his field of expertise.

"Whatever you say, Sammy, but I think the Latin exorcism was overkill."

"Anyplace else we can go eat? It's better when his mouth is filled with food," Sam retorted.

"There's a diner down the street. We'll order the trash omelet, and Deuce, you'll love the attitude."

"Trash? Don't encourage him."

"Man, you're mouthy. Picking up bad habits from the backseat driver." Dean gave his brother the finger, and then did the same to Caleb. He didn't like them ganging up on him.

Caleb grabbed Dean's finger, pushing it back. Dean snatched it out of his hand, then shook it out. Caleb pouted, "Deuce, you're hurting my feelings. You were the same kid who wanted to dress like me. . ."

"I was at an impressionable age. Sammy has no excuse."

They grabbed a booth at Harold's, a one-room diner filled with patrons and a few line cooks over a hot stove. Dean eyed the greasy bacon, the pancakes, and omelets being fried on the stovetop with a smile. What made it better was the Red Sox memorabilia hanging on every available wall space. This was his kind of place.

"So what's up?" Caleb asked after they had checked off their order on a slip of paper.

"Not until some morning caffeine," Dean replied, rubbing his stomach in anticipation of the food.

"He won't tell me what this is about either." Sam elbowed him. "The last time he sprung something on me, we ended up at the Morton House."

Dean frowned at the mention of the haunted house. Sam had wanted to go to the Grand Canyon — a wish Dean was well aware that he had vocalized and was grateful to his brother for — but the Morton House was more important. Lives were at stake, and although the house had lost its sinister spirit, it had taken one last life, too.

Life was important, and he had to keep going.

"Any leads on the Colt?" Dean knew Caleb was fishing for information.

He wished they had the Colt back in their custody. Bobby was trying to track Bela, as was the Geek Squad of The Brotherhood, but she was always one step ahead or had help. Dean was afraid of what kind of help Bela could get.

"No," Sam answered, but didn't add that Ruby was not helping them find the Colt. She said she had fixed it once, and that was all she could do.

Dean sat next to his brother, shoulder to shoulder, with Caleb on the other side of the booth. He liked the close proximity where before he had wanted space. Lately when they saw Bobby, there were more thumps on his back, grabbing of forearms, and even a few manly hugs. Mac did the same. Dean allowed it without comment. He craved the contact where before he would shirk against it, even with women – cuddling, relishing the skin to skin contact. It left an imprint on his body, making him feel alive and whole. If either Caleb or Sam noticed it, they were not telling him or using it as teasing ammunition.

Their orders were passed to them, and Dean inhaled the smell of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. He took a bite of the toast, followed by some coffee. After licking his finger, he took out his journal he had put inside his jacket pocket. "There's this hunt I've been waiting for that Jim told me about a few years ago, and I want to check it out."

"You've been waiting for it?" Sam drank his small glass of orange juice in one gulp.

Dean was excited, the page in his journal folded over. He put his fork down and flattened out the page to show his notes. "There's this house right here in South Carolina, and every twenty years, weird things start happening in the oldest house in town, dating back to the 1700s." He flipped the page to show his poor artistic renderings and a map of the street. "I always wondered if I'd get to check it out." With the hunting lifestyle and his catalog of injuries, he hadn’t exactly thought he'd make it to his late twenties.

"When did he tell you that story? He never said anything to me." Caleb licked his fingers before he pulled the journal closer to him. He had ordered pancakes, and maple syrup had a way of insidiously sticking to fingers and napkins.

"After that job in Texas —" Dean started to explain, but noticed Sam's perplexed expression and Caleb's frown. He didn't continue. Texas was while his brother was at school, after a weird situation where he had ended up sick in New York with Jim having to save him.

"Is this Guardian-related?"

"No, I didn't say that." Dean didn't correct his brother's insinuation either. He wanted this hunt and would play all angles to get his way. He wasn’t above being selfish, didn't like it, but knew all about selfishness.

"So what did he tell you?" Caleb gestured with his hand as he bit into another forkful of dripping pancakes.

"Every twenty years for at least a hundred years — but it might be more than that — hunters have gone to investigate disturbances in Ellenton. They think they solve it, then twenty years pass and it starts again at the same house."

"And you've been marking the anniversary?" Sam swirled his spoon in his oatmeal after liberally sprinkling it with sugar and cinnamon.

"Yep. There are reports in the local paper and on the web about it." Dean pulled out the loose paper at the end of his journal. "We owe it to Pastor Jim to take a look," he concluded, adding an emotional tug to his case.

"Probably some story he told you so you'd stop pestering him." Caleb cut through the stack of pancakes with his fork.

"It could be like the mongoose," Sam said.

Dean stopped mid-bite. When they reminisced, they never spoke about the weirdness with their father, Mac, Jim, and Bobby over the so-called talking mongoose.

"Man, we were ordered not to talk about it." Caleb threw a pink sugar packet at Sam, who ducked just enough that the packet hit his brother and bounced into the oatmeal instead.

"Bobby corroborated this story." Dean deftly brought them back on topic. "He and Jim were the ones who did the salt and burn twenty years ago. I asked him to go on the hunt, but he's busy and said I was insulting him—he’d already dealt with it."

"Wait, I was your second choice?"

The wet pink sugar packet smacked him on the cheek. Sam smirked as Caleb wiped his face.

Dean snorted. His brother was working on tactics. "Maybe third. Mac was edging out ahead of you for a time."

Caleb gave a twisted grin. "We do this, but then we gotta go to Pennsylvania."

"What's there?" Dean was trying to think of any recent information about supernatural events in Pennsylvania. None came to mind.

"Can't tell you." Caleb pushed his clean plate to the center of the table.

Dean understood since they had the same rule these days as the military: don't ask, don't tell. "Damn, I'll just hole up somewhere with some chick."

"That's the spirit." Caleb grabbed the check, glanced at it, then pulled out his wallet. All of this was routine; Dean had stopped trying to offer to pay a very long time ago. "So guy road trip?"

"I don't want to call it that." Sam dropped the spoon into his empty oatmeal bowl.

After Rose and the death of Gideon, that was understandable. However, Dean wondered if there were undertones of something else. Caleb and Sam had given in to him too easily. Being in the dark with all of the mysterious whispered phone calls made him suspicious. "Things aren't looking good for me, are they?"

"Dean—" Sam elbowed him. So much for “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

"Or things are great, and we're allowing this because we have a plan." Caleb stole a home fry from Dean's breakfast.

"Good point." Dean rubbed his side, then in retaliation punched his brother in the shoulder.

"Got to keep you guessing." Caleb moved down the bench seat then stood, gesturing to the door that they should leave.

With a groan from his full stomach, Dean got out of the booth. They would return to Cullen's, pack, and get on the road.

"Have you heard anything about Rose?" Sam asked when they returned to the Impala.

"No, and that's what has me worried." Caleb rested his head against the backseat of the Impala.

"Josh have anything?" Sawyer was providing them with information from a different angle since he had been drafted into the coven. It wasn’t exactly an ideal situation, not with him needing to be sharing his loyalties, but they knew he was doing the best he could at the moment.

"He says he made the coven aware, and there's no information. He didn't expect anything; they have bigger fish to fry."

Dean wondered what that meant, but wasn’t going to borrow trouble. "She'll turn up." Rose wasn't dead yet, and Dean wanted her that way, not just in retaliation for what she had done to him, but all the misery she had brought with her in the foolishness of her plan.

"Ethan says—" Caleb started.

Dean was caught off guard by the mention of one of the Matthews brothers. He didn't realize that Caleb kept in touch with Ethan. "Do you talk to him every day?"

"No," Caleb answered with a flick to the back of Dean's head. "Like once a week. Jealous, Princess?"

"The only good thing, according to Elijah—" Sam started before Dean could offer a descriptive response.

"Oh, my God. You, too?" He blurted. When were these phone calls being made? If it was when he was in the shower or bathroom, then he would have to start limiting his time. "What do you talk about?"

'"You, of course," Sam said, but he was ignoring his brother, his body twisted so he could speak to Caleb.

"Shut up. Both of you suck." Dean knocked the back of his hand against the driver's side window.

"What did Eli say?" Caleb asked Sam.

"Griffin is looking for her, too."

Dean remained silent through the drive back to the condominium. He was still quiet when he got out of the car, tucking the keys into his pocket.

"You still stewing that we have friends and you don't? I always told you to work on your personality." Caleb gave him a push between his shoulder blades.

"No." It was more than that — they could talk to their counterparts, but Gideon was dead. Gideon was dead and Eli and Ethan had moved on, like Sam and Caleb would when he was gone, if he was gone. It made him feel insignificant, replaceable. He was jealous.

"Then let's go solve the unsolvable and make history, because this is all about you," Caleb said from his right, while Sam was on his left. He was in the middle, walking with the important people in his life.

"Isn't it always?"


Sam looked out the window to the lush greenery on the side of the road. They had passed some small towns, and then some rambling homes that were either farmhouses or estates until all that was left were a trickling of cars and vegetation. They had left the highway a while ago, and Sam was not above complaining. He trusted his brother on the back roads of America, but usually there was more evidence of life. He opened the window for some fresh air and could smell long grass. "Do you know where you're going?"

Dean rubbed a hand over his short hair. "Yeah, kinda; the thing is that I was in this area before and wanted to scope out the town, but there was only this road, and it didn't lead anywhere."

"We're lost?" Caleb asked from the backseat where he was using the whole bench as a makeshift bed. There wasn't much to do except catch up on some sleep. Sam was jealous — he should have offered to sit in the back so that he could have stretched out.

"GPS, man, G-P-S."

Sam knew perfectly well that was an insult to his brother. Modern technology was fallible in a lot of cases. If and when Dean built his own guidance system, then he would use it. Otherwise it remained status quo. "No way."

"Yeah, a CD player first, maybe an iPod dock," Sam commented. He had a wish list, and the first thing that topped it was saving Dean from Hell; the second was tied between peace on Earth, all demons dead, and Ruby gone, but those were probably all connected. Then he’d worry about getting his brother to add a few amenities to their home on wheels. "Could be one of those dying towns. . ." Sam continued, pointing and flexing one foot, then the other.

"One company goes or the military moves out, so do the jobs and people. Too many towns like that. Gives me the creeps," Caleb stated.

There was silence for a few more miles. He should have had a book open on his lap.

He didn't know why he didn't feel rushed: time was wasting for Dean. Caleb was now following a different angle in their search, investigating some promising gypsy/Romany lore about bringing a person back, while Sam pursued the fundamentalist Christian angle of talking in tongues, connecting back to the Spiritualist religion and any other fringe beliefs which were usually cemented in some sort of truth or experience. However, time slowed down every once in a while, and a week looking into something Dean had been harboring interest in for years was worth the break.

Plus, they had his agreement to follow a lead in Pennsylvania, one that was possibly the answer to their prayers. It didn't mean they were putting their eggs into one basket, but it meant they were making progress.

"There it is. I told you. I just didn't go far enough last time."

Ahead was the skyline of a town, the silhouette that of an old movie. There wasn't the suburban sprawl, but a compact town which Sam figured was about twenty square miles.

They entered the perimeter as a dark, fresh asphalt guided them in on a main road with clapboard buildings painted in different colors. Every once in a while a brick or stucco structure provided variety.

"This place is shiny," Caleb commented from the backseat.

In comparison to New York City, everything was cleaner and brighter. It wasn't just the cleanliness that Sam guessed Caleb was talking about, but the people had smiles, and a congeniality could be read from their countenances.

Dean continued the Impala's stroll down the main street. The movie theatre's marquis jutted out into the sidewalk, visible as they drove by.

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Die Hard. Awesome." Dean glanced over to his brother. Sam nodded, recalling the memory.

Caleb moved so his face was between the boys. "Getting a bit excited much?"

Dean pushed him back with one hand over Caleb's face and a shove.

Sam explained their warmth for the two movies—Dean's favorite was Die Hard, which a too-young Sam had still been allowed to see, but he had enjoyed Roger Rabbit more. "You were away in Europe, but those movies – you know New Haven doesn't have much entertainment. I think we saw them every weekend for six weeks."

"Pastor Jim was okay with it?"

"He figured we couldn’t find too much trouble in a darkened movie theatre," Sam surmised. Although Jim did have rules, he bent them for the boys, probably more than even their father would have liked, but it was a little hard to say no to the Guardian when he wanted to show any of his boys some attention. It was why Sam had been allowed to see a completely inappropriate movie.

Caleb snorted. "He didn't know you two very well."

Dean interrupted Sam’s reply to Caleb with a barely contained awe in his voice. "Can you believe the cars in this town? There must be one hell of a mechanic here."

They all had their interests, and Dean’s attention was easily diverted when it came to cars. Sam recalled the jealously he harbored for his brother, the time he spent with John connecting over an engine. It was something he was now sharing with his brother, but under the worst of circumstances.

"Man crush already?" Caleb quipped.

Sam smiled. Dean was always in the mood to speak to mechanics, and though a few gained his respect, most were labeled hacks.

"Do I need to check out the truck? Make sure you're taking good care of her, Damien?"

Sam diverted his attention away from the conversation to the actual street. There was an array of cars driving by them, all in pristine condition. Some were antiques, different than the Impala, which although made in 1967 and technically defined as antique, was too much a muscle car to be placed in the same place as a little convertible. "What was that?"

"An MG. Such a chick car." Dean shook his head. "Typical for you."

"But not many foreign ones otherwise."

"And that's how my baby likes it. She's with her peers." Dean patted the dashboard. It was something he did subconsciously when he was paying the car a complement. Sam wondered if, over time as he worked on the Impala's engine, he would form the same relationship with the car.

"There's a Toyota," Caleb said with a not-so-well-disguised glee.

"There's a motel up ahead," Sam stated to break the upcoming battle about cars that would lead to a talk about weapons; the weapon topic was one Dean and Caleb were never encouraged to discuss due to their differences in opinion. For most people it was religion and politics; in this family, it was weaponry and cars.

The motel couldn't be missed due to the fact there was a billboard above it: 'The Mainfaire Inn.' It had a sixties era architecture, hard lines trying to be modern but evolving quickly into kitschy.

"Looks like the Brady Bunch house," Caleb said with disgust as he exited the car after they pulled into the parking lot.

"A Mike Brady special . . . Remember that part in the movie?" Dean clasped Caleb's shoulder. "Are you jealous that you didn't design this?"

Sam was trying to recall the movie, but so many of them blended together. He was at the trunk of the Impala to get his bag, ready to turn to tell Caleb and his brother they needed to fend for themselves when a kid on roller blades yelled out to them. Sam avoided the near collision. "What the hell?" He stayed flattened against the open trunk.

"Sorry." The kid skated back a bit awkwardly and pulled the earphones from his ears. He held a Walkman, similar to the one Dean had reworked into an EMF detector.

Dean stopped the teen from coming any further and causing a possible fatality. "You should get some knee pads, elbow pads, and a helmet there, Bud." He playfully knocked on the boy's head.

The teen smiled and gave Dean the thumbs up. "Thanks!" They all then watched as he haltingly skated away.

Sam tossed the bags to the other two hunters and closed the trunk. The bells on the door chimed as they entered the motel lobby. A girl with long, straight blonde hair was at the desk waiting for them. "I saw you pull up."

"Where are Jan and Cindy?" Dean commented.

"Janice is at the hair salon, and I don't know any Cindy. . . My name is Clara." She cocked her head to one side, and her hair followed.

"Clara, I'm Sam." Sam elbowed his brother into silence. "We need a room, please."

"You three want a room together?" Clara asked, only looking at Sam.

"Do you have a suite or adjoining rooms?" Caleb interrupted in order to get larger rooms. The Winchesters were used to taking what he was offered and leaving it at that, regardless of Caleb’s years of attempted tutelage in the art of saying ‘no’.

"You're brothers, right? I can see that." She wiggled her fingers near her eyes. "Far out."

"Yes," Sam stated, figuring it was easier to include Caleb as a brother than go into a long-winded explanation of their connection, and better than her assuming they were gay. He would have to ask Elijah next time they spoke if it was common for hunters to have their heterosexuality questioned.

He probably would have said more, but as a couple came in from behind the counter, Sam was too busy trying to stop his mouth from dropping open at the woman's garish floral dress and the man's matching wide tie. He stole a glance at Dean and Caleb and knew he wasn’t off. The ensembles were a lot to take in.

"Clara, we heard the bell. Do we have guests?" The woman's multitude of plastic bangles clinked as she lifted her hand to wave at the men.

"Welcome, welcome!" The man stretched his hand out to them. "I'm Walter, my wife Mildred."

"So do you have rooms available?" Dean pulled his hand away after Walter had pumped it three times.

Clara smiled at Sam. "Two adjoining rooms, if that's groovy with you, Sam?"

Sam looked back at Caleb and Dean for confirmation. Caleb nodded his head, opened his wallet, and handed over a credit card. "That'll be fine. You can use this."

"Caleb Lohessa," Clara read the name on the card out loud, then stepped back to another desk and began to write down the numbers.

"My brothers Sam, who you already met, and Dean," the older hunter made the introductions. Dean waved at the sound of his name.

"Lohessa?" Dean muttered as he moved closer to Caleb and Sam. "You let Josh pick out names for you, asshole?"

Sam snorted as he figured out that Joshua had rearranged the derogatory term.

"If he wasn’t so good at it I would complain more, but I'll have to threaten to tell Esme he's our Picasso," Caleb said with a nod to Walter and Mildred, who were looking at them in keen interest.

On his own Caleb used his real name, but with them he used different cards. Sam had to admit, Joshua's identification cards were better than their cards. Joshua's lasted longer because the minimum balances were being paid, while Dean and Sam ran theirs up and then discarded them.

"What kind of surname is Lohessa?" Walter asked, pronouncing the name clearly.

Caleb shrugged. "Spanish?"

"¿No es un día maravilloso fuera?" Walter jabbered away, adding in hand gestures.

Sam had taken Latin in high school. It served a double edge, helping with the SATs and with hunting. He could guess what the older gentleman was asking, but Caleb handled it better.

"Ahh, no comprendé." Caleb waved his hands.

"He was asking your opinion of the weather," Dean said.

Sam turned to look at his brother, as did Caleb. Dean shrugged like they should have known what he was going to say even before he said it. "What? There was this girl. . ."

He had to wonder about his older brother sometimes, if there was always a girl involved or if that was just an excuse Dean felt was believable.

"Sorry, awhile back there was a man from Mexico, and I was hoping I could keep up my Spanish," Walter said with such evident disappointment that his wife patted his arm in consolation.

Sam cleared his throat, all eyes fell to him, and so he thought it best to keep up the conversation. "Do you have wireless?"

"Wireless what?" Walter frowned.

"Computer connection in the rooms," Sam explained further, grasping at words to describe the significance of wireless.

"We have HBO!" Mildred showed them the standing cutout.

"Great. That’s just great." Sam nodded, as did Caleb and Dean.

Clara returned, passing Caleb his credit card. "We're looking into the wireless. It's happening."

Dean opened his cell phone. "No signal."

"The rooms have phones. And we are working on cell phones, too. It'll be all systems go." Clara flashed them the peace sign, which Dean returned with a comment.

"You don't get many people around here do you?"

She leaned over, batted her eyelashes at Sam, and rested her hand against her chin. "You're just getting the end of the tourist season."

"This place is a tourist spot?" Sam looked around and away from Clara, who was making him nervous. There was no evidence of any other guests.

"Don't freak out." She rolled her eyes. "But it's because of the haunted house."

"The haunted house?" Caleb's arms were crossed, trying to play at aloof.

Mildred hooked her arm into her husband's elbow. "Let's get down to the nitty gritty. It's why you boys are here. Right?"

"No," Caleb answered.

"Yes," Sam replied at the same time.

"Gotcha!" Clara pointed at Sam. "We like to tell it like it is. The haunted house is fab. My dad can help you out."

"I'll call up Mr. Francis so he can give you a tour personally." Walter looked at his watch. "It's too late now. He likes to spend time with his cher amie."

"That's not what they call her," Mildred said sotto voce and frowned for a moment, but then the smile returned. "So many people interested in haunted houses. Why is that?"

"They watch too many movies," Caleb said, muttering, "makes our job harder."

"How long are the movies playing?" Dean asked, giving Caleb's shoulder a push.

"It's a bummer." Clara brushed off the nonexistent dust from the counter, her hand moving in a circular motion. "Just today. Tomorrow will be something new. I'm hoping for a remake of Love Story."

Walter snapped his fingers. "You boys should go to the movies, then over to Mrs. Lilly's Kitchen and get some pie."

Sam watched his brother's face light up at the mention of his favorite food. Their lives were simplistic in comparison to Caleb’s, who in the past had regaled them with stories of Europe, driving a Ferrari, and parties with supermodels. He hadn't talked about that in a long time, noticing that it was so insignificant in comparison to their dangerous lifestyles. He hoped one day soon they would revert to the way they were when it didn't feel like they bore the weight of the world.

"You said pie. We got to have some pie." Sam felt Dean grip his arm, steering him out of the lobby with two sets of keys in his hand. Their rooms were on the first floor, adjoining as requested.

The shininess of the room was not due to cleanliness, although it was clean. The wallpaper was silver with a design of green bamboo imprinted on it. The same image was embossed on the double beds. The furniture was white laminated with a sheen, too.

Caleb came through the adjoining door. "As long as I am not alone in Tasteless Hell. It's like the 1980s are calling."

Dean deposited his duffle on one of the beds, as did his brother. "Did you pick up anything from them?"

Caleb answered for both he and Sam since the younger hunter’s powers were not as strong; he could not effortlessly read someone as Caleb could. "They're too happy, content — it's weird. There's something…I just can't put my finger on it."

"As long as there’re no death visions, then we're good." Dean rubbed his hands together. "Salt lines just in case. It's like the Stepfords without the hotness factor, though that girl was totally checking you out."

Sam snorted and went to check out if the cleanliness level carried over into the bathroom. There was nothing worse than a gritty bathroom. Over his shoulder he denied, "No, she wasn't."

"Yes, she was," Caleb answered loud enough for Sam to hear in the bathroom filled with mirrors. "She wants you. Don't know why when we're far better choices."

Sam shook his head and came out of the bathroom with a quick retort on his lips when there was a knock at the door.

"Go ahead and answer it, Runt. It's for you." Caleb lifted his brow in a challenge.

When he opened the door, Clara stood with full arms and full smile. "I thought you might want extra towels."

"Extra towels, Sam," Dean said with an added cough that did not hide the chuckling.


Chapter 2

Caleb knew the girl was interested in Sam, but he could admire the scenery just the same. She was wearing a brightly colored sleeveless mini-dress with tall, white boots that accentuated her long legs.

Sam's hands were now filled with a pile of towels, but he seemed to have lost his ability to speak. Dean was muffling his laughter — just barely.

"How many guests are staying here?" Caleb decided to try to keep Clara present for a few more moments.

"Just one other guest — he says he's here for forever, but he'll leave in two days." She didn't step in, instead remaining on the threshold, speaking only to Sam.

Dean stopped laughing and stared at Caleb with a frown etched on his face. "How do you know that?"

Clara wrapped a hand around her blonde hair and brought it forward so it was over one shoulder. "He's fighting with his wife — they always make up." She gestured with her head to the large VCR under the television. "We have movies at the desk."

"Ahh, okay," Sam replied with a stutter. Caleb was glad Sam had found his limited voice. "Thanks for the towels."

"Sure, see you later." Clara took a step back, then turned with one last doe-eyed glance over her shoulder at Sam.

Caleb shut the door, rested against the closed door with his arms crossed. "She. Was. Coming. On. To. You."

Sam blushed and forcefully pushed the towels at Caleb. "Shut up. I thought we were supposed to go to the movies."

"Damien, you know how sensitive Samantha is." Dean cupped the back of his brother's neck and gave him a push around the room, never relaxing his grip as the younger brother tried to snake out of it.

Caleb stepped away from the door and placed the towels on the closest bed. "Are we walking?" It was a bright day outside, and he didn't want to spend any more time in the dark interior of the Impala.

"Are you insulting my baby?" Dean stopped pushing his brother.

"Yes. It's not like flying first class." Caleb crossed his arms. He loved Dean, but some of his phobias were annoying. Sometimes it was easier to fly cross-country in six hours than to drive for two days at breakneck speed.

"Some fresh air would be nice, too." Sam nodded, stepping closer to Caleb.

Dean snorted, flipping his pointed finger accusatorily to the two of them standing together. "It is nice to see you two all chummy and ganging up on me."

"So we're walking." Sam smiled, walking out the door and not giving his brother a chance to fight back.

Caleb shrugged his shoulders and followed him out with Dean in the rear. They walked down the main street they had come in on when they drove in. It was a bit strange since they did stand out as three tall men walking on the sidewalk. They were given a wide berth and welcoming smiles. "Feels like we're stuck in a Norman Rockwell painting."

"It feels like when I was with the Djinn, but different." Dean waved to someone who said ‘hello’ as he passed. "This is better, 'cause I am not in the mood to stab myself."

Caleb winced. He hated being reminded of the times he had failed Dean, especially when he noticed that Sam had a drawn look on his face, too. He poked him in the ribs. "Lincoln Logs." Caleb pointed to the window of the toy store.

"Tinker Toys," Sam added with a smile.

"Are you two serious?" Dean said, standing behind them while Caleb and Sam kept their faces pressed to the glass.

The toys took Caleb back to what seemed like an uncomplicated time when Jim and John were still with them, when Jim’s sweet tea and a slice of apple pie could fix anything, when Caleb wasn’t lying to Dean about the amulet. It was gone now, but that didn’t change that he had used it. Dean wouldn't be happy about it.

"All that stuff was hand-me-downs from Jim's parishioners. And as I recall, you would hog the Lincoln Logs when they were supposed to be for me and Sammy to play with," Dean commented, pulling Caleb away from his thoughts.

"What can I say? I was a budding architect," Caleb replied with a shrug of his shoulders. He wondered if there was ever a time he thought he would do something different. Like a lot of things these days, it seemed like even those decisions were ingrained in him when his parents died.

Caleb was ready to move on, but Sam was still nostalgic. "Pretty cool store, though: Radio Flyer Wagon, Big Wheels. Dean, Army guys."

Dean gave a quick nod, then cleared his throat. "There's a line at the movie theatre — guess everyone wants to see Bruce Willis kick ass."

Sam looked at Caleb, and the younger Winchester was confused at what he had said to put that look on his brother’s face. Caleb shrugged. It could have been just about anything. Growing up had been difficult for Dean — it was fraught with insecurities that no one could avail. "Come on, Runt. Must be the first time we all go to the movie where we aren't sneaking you in."

The movie was everything they expected, seeing as they must have already seen it a dozen times, but it was so close to normal that it left Caleb shaky with anticipation of doom.

Once Bruce had yippee-kai-yayed his way to beat the bad guys, they hit the recommended restaurant, which seemed to contain the whole town. They waited by the door until they were escorted to a table. It was a period-themed place with women dressed in long skirts with white shirts. They were led to a large oak table with high back chairs, reminiscent of the set at the farm.

"I'll give you time to get your bearings." She handed them paper menus.

Caleb gave the paper a quick glance. "I know what I'm getting: meatloaf."

"Fried chicken for me." Dean patted his stomach. "Although if we stay here long enough, we may be able to work our way through the menu."

Caleb knew he didn't hide the surprise from his voice. "That's not like you—usually it's get in and get out."

Dean took a biscuit from the basket and handed it to his brother. "What can I say, Die Hard made me nostalgic for the good old days. Plus, who knows how long it is going to take Sammy to ask that girl out?"

"Shut up," Sam replied as he took the biscuit that was in his hand and lobbed it at his brother.

Caleb stretched out with his hand, catching Sam in the ribs. He cleared his throat as the waitress returned; she had witnessed Sam's biscuit throwing. "Pardon us, Ma'am."

"I'm a suffragette. There are days when I want to throw things, too. But our biscuits really are excellent."

"I'm sorry about that." Sam blushed, his neck glowing red and creeping up to his face. It was rare that Sam was ever reprimanded, and this had been mild.

The waitress placed another biscuit on Sam's plate. "What's your order?"

They went through their list; sitting in the restaurant was making them all hungry. The smell was warm and mouth watering. They passed the time talking about the movie and as expected, having a discussion about the past, of better times, not of injuries and childhood traumas. Two waitresses came with their food, placing the large plates in front of them that had them all longing for Jim’s cooking.

"Looks great," Caleb commented at the steaming meatloaf and the sides of green beans and mashed potatoes with a pat of butter pooling on the top. They ate in silence, signaling the food was too good to be interrupted with conversation.

"How's tricks?" their waitress said when she swung by to check on them.

As usual when this happened, Caleb's mouth was full, and the Winchesters were in the same position. He swallowed quickly, saddened he couldn’t enjoy the bite more. "Heaven."

"Do you want a second helping?"

"God, yes," Dean replied as he licked his fingers. "This whole town. . . It's just. . ."

"Pie-in-the-sky?" The waitress supplied the answer.

"Pie." Dean smiled. "I'll go with that."

She gave him a nod before leaving. They were scraping their plates when she returned with the promised second helpings. "You're the boys that came about the house."

Caleb pushed his plate away; suddenly this wasn't about a fun meal, but about too many people knowing their business. It made him wary and suspicious. "And how do you know that?"

"Walter was in here earlier." She shrugged as she smoothed the dark fabric of her skirt.

"Can you tell us anything about the house?" Sam asked, toying with his plate of chicken and dumplings.

She looked down and shook her head, the loose tendrils of her hair swaying back and forth. "Mr. Francis has heard the call of the wild."

"Call of the wild?" Caleb didn't understand how the Jack London book applied to this situation, unless the person who owned the house was involved with wolves, or worse — werewolves.

"I don't want to be a muckraker. You'll see what I mean when you make the acquaintance of Gwendolyn.

"Gwendolyn," Dean accentuated the syllables of the name through the chewing of his food. He waved the fork. "It sounds like a soap opera."

Caleb relaxed back in his seat. "I was thinking werewolves."

"Yeah, me too," Sam added. They were both staring at Dean, who continued eating.

Caleb shared a knowing look with Sam. "But the question should be, why did you think soap opera?"

Dean stopped eating, placing his fork down. "Shut up." Dean glared at Caleb, then directed his stare at his brother. "You too, 'cause it's not werewolves." He picked up his fork. "Don't you two idiots think Bobby would have mentioned that, or Jim when he told me the story?"

"Are you sure you're telling us everything? You do have a tendency to hold back the details."

Dean puckered his face. "Pot, kettle, black."

"Yeah, we may be guilty, but you're the king of 'I'm fine,' when you’re bleeding out." Caleb recalled when Dean had gotten his ring and hidden a serious injury, along with another half dozen times that were entirely too close calls.

"What about that time — " Dean started.

"This is the best meal." Sam picked up a forkful of chicken and dumplings, interrupting the obvious game of one-up-man-ship. "Mmmm."

Caleb laughed – Sam was very effective in asserting himself between the two of them. The time Caleb and Sam had spent together towards a common goal had helped them bridge a large gap. "Yes, it is."

Too full, they were quiet as they left the restaurant. Dusk was starting to settle, so they took their time as they walked back on the other side of the street, which had a baseball diamond lit up by large lights attracting mosquitoes and fireflies. They paused, Caleb noticing Dean's hands wrapping around the metal fence. It was older men playing baseball with intensity and no audience except for Caleb, Sam, and Dean.

The batter hit the ball, getting a double. Dean whistled, then clapped his hands. "Way to go!" he yelled out. They remained watching until the batters were going out into the field.

One of the players, heading towards the pitcher's mound called out to them, "Hey, we need another person. Do any of you play?"

There were very few 'being at the right place at the right time' moments, and they were going to take advantage of it. "Deuce — "

Dean snorted, backed away from the fence, and waved his hands. "Damien, it's been a long time."

The youngest Winchester cupped his hands around his mouth. "He can!"

"Sam!" Dean grabbed Sam's shoulder.

"What? I can't remember the last time I saw you play baseball." He gave a little nod to Caleb. "We promise not to laugh when you suck."

Caleb knew as well as Sam that Dean never said no to a dare, especially one where he was insulted. "Me? Suck? I don't think so." Dean walked away from them to the opening in the fence. "Do you have some equipment for me to borrow?"

They watched as Dean was patted on the back and warmly welcomed by his new teammates. They gave him a glove, a baseball hat, and sent him to the outfield.

"I'd forgotten this," Sam commented as they walked to the benches.

Before, Caleb had wanted to keep what had happened to Dean while Sam was away a secret — all of it, even the good times. However, since Dean's kidnapping by Rose, it had become easier to let a lot of those secrets go. "I think I did, too, for a while, but then when you were at school, we went on a hunt and had a chance to stop at the batting cages." He recalled how Dean had helped the kids with their stances. "You should do that sometime, just the two of you."

Sam shook his head. "I suck at baseball."

"It's okay." Caleb elbowed the younger hunter. "I'm sure he'll help you. Plus it's good for eye/hand coordination."

"Everything a training exercise, Knight Caleb? Dad would be so proud." Sam rubbed the spot on his side where Caleb had made contact.

Maybe it was this place, or watching Dean play baseball, but Caleb's mind produced a picture of Jim, Mac, and John at the pastor's kitchen table having an easygoing conversation. "They were good together, you know, as The Triad." He didn't have to explain the nonsequitor to Sam.

"Mac thinks we'll be better since we were brought up the traditional way."

"There's nothing traditional about us." He was tainted by demon blood; Sam, a few years ago, had packed it in; and their Guardian had a death wish. "What do you think?" Caleb didn't want to push Sam, but knew he was hiding something. He hoped it wasn't something that could hurt Dean or hurt them finding a solution, and eventually Sam would tell them what was bothering him. He always did.

"I'm taking the wait-and-see approach. We have some big shoes to fill."

Caleb assumed Sam had it easy; Mac was still around and would be if he had any say in the matter, but Mackland Ames was a larger than life figure, too. Even having the man for a father didn’t take away all the mystique. Caleb and Dean had to live up to ghostly enigmas, so it seemed as though they were all in the same situation.

"So you finally caught up with the gypsies?" Sam changed the topic of conversation, either because it was getting too close to his secret or being the next Scholar was overwhelming. Caleb didn't know and knew enough not to ask.

"Yeah, we could learn a lot about subterfuge from them." They were not a cult, which is why his usual contacts failed him. He'd made contact through Esme. Joshua would have asked too many questions. It was hard to talk to Joshua these days between his work at the PR firm, The Brotherhood, and then coven meetings, plus Caleb's overwhelming guilt at having caused the mess. He still had to make arrangements with Drew to take him out to lunch, as much as he wanted to shirk his promise.

"I think it looks good. Do you think it does? I mean, it is out of The Brotherhood stuff. Bobby and Mac have been working on that angle and haven't come up with anything."

Caleb recognized the excited hopefulness he had, too, when he had come across a few Romany legends. "I don't want to jinx it, but hey, maybe we're on a roll — good movie, good eats, a little baseball. And besides, karma owes us."

"We're past due for a miracle."

When was the last time they had had a miracle? Presently, all that came to mind was John's deal for Dean, and that wasn't a miracle. A miracle wouldn’t need a sacrifice, just some faith. Caleb had faith. "Long past due."


Dean was exhilarated by the baseball game, playing the remaining seven innings for hours, wondering if the other players were stretching the game because of him. They let him keep the hat from the Brooklyn Dodgers, which Caleb kept flicking off his head.

When they arrived at the motel, Clara popped her head from the hotel lobby. "Hi, Sam. Did you have a nice night?"

Sam looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. "Great. The food was great." Then the corners of his mouth turned up as he bobbed his head. Dean couldn’t resist, and slapped the back of his brother's head.

Clara must have seen the action because she put a hand over her mouth before letting it drop. "Great! Bye!"

"That was—" Caleb started. They were all watching Clara sashay into the motel office, showing off her toned legs.

"Great?" Dean suggested, picking his brother's stagnant word, which caused Caleb to laugh in earnest.

"Shut up." Sam walked ahead of them.

Caleb and Dean ran up to him. "Ask the girl out," Caleb said, giving Sam's shoulder a push.

"No." Sam fumbled for the room key.

Dean easily found his and put the key in the lock. "Why not?" He knew a part of Sam would always grieve for Jessica, but he hoped that his brother would, if not emulate him, try to find some female companionship a little more often.

"Every time I get close to someone, it doesn’t work out and then we leave. That doesn't work with me." Sam sat down on the bed.

Dean was dumbfounded, never realizing the toll their lifestyle growing up had taken on his brother, how it had affected him bonding to others. "Why don't you do what I do: be honest, let her decide?"

"You're honest?" Caleb snickered, leaning against the desk in the room. "I've heard the load of bull you feed to women, Deuce."

"Not in words—in actions. They know what they are getting into and they like it." Girls understood one night stands and weekend hookups just as much as any guy, especially the types he met at bars.

"Sam, take the girl on a date to wherever they go in Mayberry," Caleb advised.

Dean couldn’t remember the last time he had been on a formal date, probably during the time without Sam when he was with Cassie. He assumed Caleb was referencing his own time at college, and Dean was happy they shared that in common.

"But we're only here for a week tops, then after. . ." Sam waved his hand in the air.

"There's an after," Caleb said emphatically, always the optimist.

It was Dean who had the shaky future, who was trying to ensure his brother had a future. He was at least optimistic about that, too. He wanted them both to stop spending so much time on planning for the future and concentrate on the here and now. "Cowboy up." Dean walked over and pulled his brother to standing. "Girl meets Boy. Girl and Boy have sex. You know how it goes."

Caleb added a push towards the door.

Sam stayed his ground and glared at them. "You two aren't going to let up, are you?"

Dean looked at Caleb for confirmation. "No, not really."

Sam sighed loudly; maybe it was more a frustrated groan. "Fine." He turned and stalked out the door.

"Big brother knows best," Dean said to the closed door, happy he had steered his brother towards Clara.

Caleb crossed his arms. "You don't find it strange that Sammy is getting the girl?"

"We have to throw him a bone every once in awhile."

"True. Think maybe he'll come back with a movie?" Caleb pointed at the large VCR set under the television.

Dean knew how the scenario would play out. "Probably. He'll go in, kinda stutter, pretend the real reason he's there is to pick up a movie. If we are lucky, then no hamster."

Caleb barked a snort of laughter. "She'll make some moves on him," Caleb added in, whether by knowing Sam or reading the girl, Dean didn't know, but it was an accurate assessment.

"Then he'll ask her out." Dean could picture his brother's sheepish posture.

"How long?" Caleb tapped his watch.

"An hour, because then he's going talk to her about some stupid shit." It may be music, or books, or at a long shot, Die Hard.

"I'll take an hour and a half."

"Deal." Dean put his hand out to Caleb who bounced his fist against it.

They played cards half-heartedly while waiting, accusations of cheating ranging from mind reading to counting cards made their game turn into an arm wrestling match. After an hour Caleb was smug, believing he was going to win the bet, but Sam sauntered in at an hour and fifteen minutes. "No go." Dean sliced his hands through the air.


Sam put the two black cases on the television, ignoring the exchange between the best friends. "They had two Chuck Norris movies."

Dean idolized Chuck, but wanted to know what happened. "So?"

"Tomorrow night."



The next morning Dean languished in bed, figuring either Caleb or Sam would get some coffee, breakfast, or both and bring it into the room. However, it seemed as though each depended on the others because Dean was awakened not by the smell of fresh coffee, but by the sound of a toilet flushing followed by the shower in Caleb's room.

Dean scratched his head, tufting up his hair as he sat up in bed. Sam came out, toothbrush in his mouth. Dean tilted his head to read the t-shirt he didn't recognize. "I own Blackacre."

Sam popped the toothbrush out of his mouth and tugged on the shirt. "I bought it at that second hand store . . . I thought it was funny."

He couldn’t recall which store they had stopped at recently. They tended not to buy much new except underwear and t-shirts. "I don't get it."

"Blackacre is a legal example about property. They use it in hypos." Sam used his finger to underline the words.

Dean nodded, not really caring about what Blackacre signified; it was obviously something geek-related. "So you still think about going back?"

Sam quickly looked away with a shrug. "It's just a t-shirt," he added before returning to the bathroom.

"Alrighty." Dean set his feet on the floor.

Caleb came out with a towel wrapped around his waist, peeking his head through the adjoining door as Sam exited to the bathroom once more. He dropped his toothbrush into his bag and swung back out again. With a jaunty wave to Caleb along the way, Sam announced that he was going to get some coffee and left the room.

"Did I miss something?" Caleb was looking between the closed door and Dean.

"Promise me you'll make sure he goes back to school?" Dean said while he went through his bag looking for clean clothes.

Caleb put a hand on his bicep. "You'll be able to do that yourself."

Dean didn't want to leave anything up to chance, just in case, and shook off the arm. "I know he's jealous of Elijah. He's legit, going for a PhD or whatever, but it's respectable like you and Mac."

"He respects you." Caleb held on to the towel around his waist.

"Don't know about that," Dean answered as he entered the bathroom, shutting the door on any further dialogue with Caleb and his inevitable listing of all his good qualities. He was good at hunting, and other things, but he didn't have a college education with fancy initials after his name. For guys like Caleb and Sam, that piece of paper was important.

When he came out of the shower, wet hair curling along his nape and shirt damp from the quick dry, he found the smell of coffee and crullers along with an excited Sam. He was animatedly talking to Caleb.

"You won't believe what I just saw!”

"What?" Dean questioned his brother while reaching for a cup of coffee. He took the lid off, tossing it on the table.

"He saw break dancers. Like ‘Stop! Hammertime’." Caleb stood, crouched, then shuffled across his feet back and forth.

Dean put his hands out to stop Caleb's antics, splashing the coffee over his hand. "You're scaring me."

Caleb squared his shoulders. "Ah, yeah, sorry."

"Yeah, you should be. I think I'm scarred for life. Jeezus, 1980s calling, MC?" Dean took a sip of coffee, embracing the brew and the caffeine jolt.

"Hey, hey, you don't see me putting the Eagles down."

"That's right—" Dean really couldn’t argue. His music was sacred to him, and classic rock didn't need to be defended. The Eagles were all solid musicians (even if they did only get together now when one of them was broke enough to get over himself and tour again) when the same couldn’t be said about bat boy MC Hammer.

Caleb took a seat on one of the beds. Sam had a habit of pulling the coverlet back over the bed, even though they were only temporary living quarters. "So Sam, you said you talked to Walter?"

Sam eyed his brother, and Dean gave him a nod to continue while he took a bite of a cruller.

"Ahh, he said we can head over to the house. Mr. Francis is waiting for us."

Dean took another bite and wiped his hands on his jeans. "I'm ready to go."

They headed out the door, the Impala keys so tight in Dean's hand that he almost dropped them when Clara popped out at them. "Sam! See ya tonight."

"You're going to be getting some tonight," Dean sing-songed, reaching out to slap his brother's back.

"We agreed not to talk about it." Sam shrugged his shoulders so that Dean would drop his hand.

"We did?" Caleb added with a smirk, signaling that Sam was going to be crucified during the drive over to the house. He was lucky it was a short drive. The youngest Winchester was the first one out of the car, barely waiting for it to stop.

The house was ornate in its outside decor. Caleb was rattling off names of architectural stuff. Dean and Sam looked for any markings, as in Connecticut, but found none. The EMF from outside was pulling in a low hum, and there were no easy answers waiting for them. "There's something."

The door opened, and a man in a pin striped suit stepped out. He was thin, average height, with his dark hair slicked back and parted on the side. He had a skinny mustache and kept fidgeting with the corners of his mouth. "Are you the folks Walter put in a good word for?

"Are you Mr. Francis?" Dean answered the question with the question, wondering if they would ever know the man's first name. However, he looked like a man who was supposed to be referred to formally.

"Spot on." The man walked down the stairs, hand extended. They made their introductions with Sam relaying they were amateur ghost hunters and that was why they were interested in the house.

Dean licked his lips as he entered the house, directly following Mr. Francis. "We had friends that were here a long time ago. One guy was a little gruff, longish hair wearing a cap while the other was thinner, taller, gray hair, and a mustache? They were ghost hobbyists, too. Do you remember them at all?" He wanted to know about the connection. He couldn't disguise that it was one of the reasons he wanted to come, to hear about Jim.

"They sound familiar, but they probably spoke to my mother."

"Can I speak with her?" Dean said while he was looking around the entryway of the home. This was still an active haunting, and he needed to be aware as much as Caleb and Sam.

Mr. Francis’s reply was interrupted by singing coming from the staircase: "Some enchanted evening, when I find my true love. . ."

"Isn't she the cat's meow?" Mr. Francis smiled and gave a lustful growl as a curvaceous woman dressed in a flesh colored, wispy gown melodramatically came down the stairs singing until her hands flayed out at the same time the EMF detector spiked.

Caleb raced forward, stopping the woman from tumbling completely down the stairs. Dean saw the woman's arms go around Caleb's neck, forcing him to have to carry her down the remaining steps, her high-heeled shoes peeking from the hem of the gown.

"Gwendolyn, are you okay?" Mr. Francis came forward, reaching out to the woman.

She didn’t address Mr. Francis; she brought her hand and laid it against Caleb's cheek. "You're a big, strong, man."

Caleb put a starry-eyed Gwendolyn down. "Just glad I could be there to help."

"Sweeting, maybe you should rest . . ." Mr. Francis took Gwendolyn's hand within his, placing his other on top to show they were connected.

Dean raised his brow at Caleb. Mr. Francis was obviously jealous.

Gwendolyn shed the hand with a flick of the wrist. "No, the party's over, Melvin. I'm tired of being in the hot seat."

"But, Doodlebug!"

"She has you over a barrel, and as these boys will tell you . . .nice guys finish last." Gwendolyn gave them a sexy smile, and Dean replied in kind until Sam elbowed him in the ribs. Then they all had the good sense to look down, but Dean knew that bad boys did better. He was living proof that a woman wanted a man with some edge.

She squared her shoulders until her gown swept back as she waved her fingers at Mr. Francis. "This is strictly for the birds. Bye."

Mr. Francis ran after her, only to be stopped by the door slamming shut on him. He pounded on it, howled, and then collapsed on the ground.

"You are not allowed to pick the next gig, that's all I'm sayin'," Caleb whispered in his ear.

Dean swatted at him before pushing his brother forward to try to console Melvin. Sam resisted, mouthing, 'What? Stop it!' However, in the end he placed an arm around the loudly crying man's shoulder. "I'm sorry. We can leave. . . "

Mr. Francis took in a loud snort of air, he shuddered, then stood. Sam backed away near Dean. "No! I mean, I want to give you the tour if she will allow it."

"You know who's doing this?" Caleb asked, glancing from Dean to Sam to Mr. Francis.

"She’s my mother, and it really is time for her to go," he said in a whisper. "Gwendolyn was my bunny. . ." He placed his hand on the door. "Why me?"

"So how do you know it is your mother?" Sam frowned.

Mr. Francis looked taken aback. He smoothed down the edges of his mustache. "She died recently."

Dean was wondering about the hunt Pastor Jim and Bobby had been on all those years ago. "Remember those friends I told you about? They said they investigated a haunting; so who was it then?"

"Probably nothing, then, but now it is different. This is an old house. We say it's haunted for the tourists, and they fall over themselves. It brought you boys here." He led them into the first room to the right.

"But this time it is something?" Caleb asked as they found themselves in a room where the dark wood of the floor was emphasized by the dark woodworking. The walls had a riotous blue floral pattern. The furniture looked fragile on mostly spindly legs.

"Yes." Mr. Francis nodded. "By my mother, and she's making me bonkers."

Dean wanted to question his sanity but didn't get the opportunity as the EMF spiked before the rattling sound. They stood back to back in the center of the room, looking to find where the noise came from. Dean saw the curio cabinet, the glass shelves, and glass in the door shaking.

"You're only hurting yourself. That is your collection of thimbles," Mr. Francis called out.

The glass stilled; one thimble with a red bird tumbled to the side, beckoning to be straightened.

"I hope you're not scared, because this is par the course." Mr. Francis straightened the lapels of his suit.

"No, we're not scared. I think we want to see the rest of the house," Sam replied.

"We really get into this," Dean added with exaggeratedly huge eyes and nods, following his brother's bad acting skills.

"Yeah, exciting." Caleb deadpanned. "I think we should get our weapons," he whispered into Dean's ear.

Dean shook his head, keeping an eye on his brother while he was speaking to Mr. Francis. "We're supposed to pretend we're friendly ghost enthusiasts into this shit." Dean got frustrated with this part of the job. He liked going in with a fake ID, looking around, and leaving to come back later to finish the job.

"I can do friendly."

It was a feral smile. "Not so much." Dean pushed Caleb forward towards Sam and their tour guide.

"That's Mother and Father when they were young."

It was a black and white smile-less picture, and somehow the shadows still made them look young. It was strange to see the picture, not know the people, and realize they lived a life, got old, and died. "See, Sammy, that's what happens to people who don't get enough sex. It wipes the smile right off your face."

Sam didn't reply, which was unfortunate, but Dean was planting the seed for his date that evening. His brother needed to loosen up around women — and people in general, but mostly women.

"Or go out with loose women," Caleb said with a smile.

Dean rolled his eyes at the fact that his friend had read his thoughts. Of course sometimes it was more that Caleb knew him so well, so mind reading wasn't necessary.

"She was a good mother, but now. . . " Mr. Francis explained before continuing on with the tour, missing the banter going on behind him.

Mr. Francis's comments about his mother irritated Dean. He held his mother sacred, above others, and wished he had had more time with her. Here was this man, who had spent the better part of forty years having his mother in his life, and he was mad at her because she was haunting him? For Dean, that was beyond disrespectful. Granted, his mother had saved him and Sam back at the old house, while Mr. Francis's mother had just chased out the guy's girlfriend. Either way, the talk was getting a little irritating.

Melvin — poor Melvin, what a name to never be able to live up to — showed them the first bedroom, which he labeled the spare. It was better than the motels they stayed in — spacious in size with a king sized bed taking up a fraction of the room. They walked down the hallway as a red oriental rug covered the area to lead the way.

"My room," Mr. Francis announced. It was again large sized; the wall paper was also floral, but muted cream and tan. There was a mirrored chest, opened with gowns hanging inside. That wasn't the only evidence that Gwendolyn was also using the room. Toiletries were floating in the air in a slow circle going round and round. Mr. Francis reached out to pluck one of the items from the air. "Mother, I understand X marks the spot. . ."

"No, wait — " Caleb tried to stop him from touching the gentle parade of brush, mirror, and makeup items. John had always said not to disturb patterns made by ghosts—the poltergeists were amusing themselves, and that was when a hunter could go about their business and get the job done. But Caleb didn't stop Mr. Francis in time. The items began to pick up speed, winding up and pulling in an ashtray, statues, and jewelry from around the bedroom like a centrifuge.

"Loocy, you got some 'splanin to do," Dean said as suddenly.

The innocuous was becoming deadly. Dean and Sam crouched down to avoid the long necklace which had become a whip slashing through the air. Mr. Francis had been tackled by Caleb, who kept a hand on the man's head, forcing him to keep it down.

"Move!" Dean ordered, pushing his brother as they frog walked to the door. Caleb was ahead, assisting Mr. Francis. Dean kept his eyes forward on Sam and Caleb, not looking back as the open door was in close proximity, pinned against the wall by the wind. He had almost reached the threshold when he felt something hit the back of his head, pushing him forward and then into darkness.


Chapter 3

For a home he evaluated at being about 150 years old, it was in pristine condition. It looked fresh, unusual in these types of Victorian homes, which generally would have succumbed to water stains, fraying walls, and sagging years ago. From the outside there were three colors typical in these types of homes to accentuate the ornamentation: Wedgwood blue, cream, and a red that was a mixture of red and rose. Inside, the heavy floral pattered wallpaper marked the era. Minimalism was not in fashion, yet it wasn't cluttered. There were personal effects throughout each room.

Caleb had been intrigued and amused with all the melodrama punctuated by saving Gwendolyn, the damsel in distress. He felt he was living up to his position as The Knight in a totally different way. It all seemed innocuous, an easy in and out job, then to Pennsylvania for the answer to save Dean. This hunt would allow them to blow off some of the nervous energy which had been building as weeks turned into months searching for salvation. It was the reason why teasing Sam about Clara was important. When they did save Dean from Hell, things would be reset and Sam should be thinking about girls, lots and lots of girls. If he didn’t, they had done their Runt wrong.

The architectural side of him continued to admire the home. The artist side was also taking note of the choice in art — mostly botanical prints and landscapes — nothing Caleb himself would be interested in painting. It was the hunter's side that should have been paying attention.

In the bedroom the EMF wasn't needed, what with the silver brush, comb, mirror along with makeup brushes swirled in the air. John had tempered them — the normal reaction would have been to touch the items instead of studying them. Mr. Francis did exactly what was expected, and Caleb had toppled him to the ground too late.

Up close and personal to the floor carpeted with a thin pile beige rug, he followed Dean's order, heading towards the door while dragging Mr. Francis with him.

"It's Mommy Dearest all over with the wire hangers," he muttered as he reached the threshold. Caleb turned in time to see Sam and Dean coming towards him, and then Dean going down, face planting into the Oriental rug. "Sam!" he yelled out, going forward to help bring Dean to safety.

Sam and Caleb grabbed an arm, and by the time they dragged him a foot, he was already trying to shrug out of their grasp.

"Mommy Dearest says no more wire hangers," Dean muttered with a huff as they placed him in a sitting position against the wall in the hallway before they wrestled the door close.

"Are you okay?" Sam asked, his hand touching the bloody stripe on the side of Dean's temple.

Dean winced at the touch, then smacked the hand away. "Fine, probably don't even need stitches—"

"Is there a doctor in town?” Caleb turned to a stunned Mr. Francis, who was seated against the rattling closed door.

"Doc Sullivan. I'll ring him." Mr. Francis started to stand but kept leaning against the door, applying pressure.

Caleb was wondering if he misunderstood. "He'll come here?"

"Sure, house calls are his specialty."

"Wait." Dean put his hand up, so Mr. Francis stayed put, looking at Caleb and Sam for further directions. "It's nothing." The older Winchester wiped the blood from the side of his face where the wound was dripping a red trickle down his cheek to his chin.

"We should have a doctor look at it," Sam said, using what Caleb recognized as his voice of reason, which was also reminiscent of how someone would speak to a child. If it were anyone else, Dean would probably already have the guy laid out with a single punch for it, but he never seemed to mind it from Sam.

Dean looked away from his brother and focused on Caleb. "You're practically a doctor yourself."

"What?" The psychic guessed the direction of the conversation, and was relived Dean was coherent. "Because my father is a doctor?"

The injured hunter smiled. "Exactly."

"You were unconscious." Sam placed a hand on his brother's chest to keep him from moving. Rose had captured Dean and tortured him, leaving Sam and Caleb with doubts if he would recover. As far as they were concerned, they had every right to be hypersensitive to a momentary lapse in consciousness. "Just stay down."

"For a second! Dazed is more like it." Dean rolled his eyes, wincing again at the action before pinching the bridge of his nose. "Fine. Make sure, while he's at it," he waved his hand at Mr. Francis, "that he brings up some salt."

Mr. Francis returned with a canister filled with salt and questioned Sam about its purpose. Caleb was impressed at Sam's lying skills. But they had needed all their skills to be honed in the last few months, not just whether or not they could lie effectively to the local yokels. There was determination in what they did.

The doctor came, and his demeanor put them at ease. A couple of butterflies and aspirin later, he proclaimed Dean good as new, then gave them each a lollipop. Caleb would have to suggest that to Mac.

Sam wouldn't allow Dean to drive. Caleb was waiting for an explosive fight, but it didn't happen. Dean decided to take the backseat, shoving Caleb into the passenger side. Caleb wanted to protest; there was inherent wrongness in the seating arrangement. It would never be just him and Sam. He refused to give in, but Sam had another idea.

"I'm going to cancel my date," the younger hunter announced while they were stuck behind the Best Buy truck at the entrance of the motel.

"No, you don't," Caleb replied, wanting that bit of normalcy that was lacking from having them drive in the wrong positions. He should have insisted on the backseat.

Dean pulled on his brother's hair, forcing Sam to turn around. "Caleb and I are going to have a relaxing evening of grave digging. We'll be fine."

"You'll watch over him?" Sam asked Caleb.

Caleb placed a hand over his heart, then took two fingers and tried to poke Dean in the eyes. "I'll keep him in my sights the whole time."

Dean snorted. "What happens when you two get divorced? You going to fight for custody of me?"

They were guilty of treating him like a child, but Caleb wasn't about to acknowledge it. "Truck's moved."

He hadn't thought about the reason the Best Buy truck was in the lot until he entered the shiny wallpapered room again. Gone were the VCR and television, replaced with a 30-inch flat screen mounted to the wall and a DVD player.

Dean picked up the card that was on the nightstand. "Damn, Sam, what did you promise that girl?" On the white card it said the room had complimentary wireless.

"Cool! I can look up — "

"Date, Sam. You have one. Get ready and then get going." Dean sat on the bed, rubbing the bandage until Caleb shot him a look. Dean waved his hand. "We'll try to have some fun without our ring leader."

"Are you going to dig up the grave?" Sam directed the question to Caleb. Mr. Francis had informed them that everyone was interred at the local cemetery, so it was a matter of finding the fresh grave, digging it up, burning the body, and calling it a day. He begged for their assistance and offered to pay them. Sam stayed with the party line that they were hobbyists. Mr. Francis accepted the answer, but Caleb felt he knew more, knew the truth about them. When he probed the homeowner's mind, he discovered nothing but worry over his mother. Sam added that, as a favor and for the money, they would help. It was a better way to earn money than to have Dean hustling pool games. Caleb also knew it meant Sam could spend more time with his brother.

In the car, they had decided the best way to get rid of Mr. Francis's mother was to salt and burn the bones, the sooner the better. "As much as it pains me to say this—I'll dig and he'll supervise."

"I finally get my own minion." Dean folded his arms behind his head.

"I thought that was Sammy?" Caleb replied, to which Sam gestured with his middle finger before entering the bathroom.

Sam was in the bathroom for over half an hour. His hair then took another fifteen minutes to style with Dean threatening to get the clippers out, and Caleb encouraging him to grow it longer so he could place it in a ponytail. There were days when Caleb missed his long hair. They pushed their youngest out the door, spying from the window as he made his way to the motel office.

"Marcia Brady better treat him right." Dean remained at the window a few minutes longer before turning around and leaning against it.

Caleb was caught off guard by the emotions behind the statement. Dean wanted his brother to seek his happiness. With the way he was trying to set things right, it was like a terminally ill person making sure that those who were left behind were taken care of. Whether it was subconscious or on purpose, it made Caleb nervous that perhaps Dean felt they wouldn’t find a solution.

"Take a picture; it'll last longer. Better yet, draw one." Dean bent down and pulled something from under the bed.

"What's this?" Caleb looked tentatively at the package Dean thrust into his hands without meeting his eyes. He unfolded a corner, then attacked it with gusto, freeing the gift from its brown paper wrapping. It was a beginner's artist set. He let his hand rest on the box before opening it. The wood box included watercolors in primary colors, a few tubes of acrylic paints, colored pencils, and pastels. Paper was also provided. Caleb looked back to Dean, who had his hands in his pockets, looking down but aware he was being studied.

"You used to draw all the time when we were kids. Haven’t seen you do anything in a while."

Caleb wondered why he was being pushed to paint. His father had mentioned it at Christmas, too. He hadn't picked up a paintbrush in a while. There was no inspiration and no time. "Sammy grew out of the ‘draw me a dragon’ phase a long time ago." He remembered being begged by the youngest Winchester to make facsimiles of pictures he found in books.

Dean shrugged his shoulders. "Doesn't mean you have to."

He couldn't recall ever drawing a picture for Dean. At the time, the older brother had probably been content someone else was entertaining Sam. "When?" Dean had been with him and Sam the whole time they had been in town. He picked up a tube of acrylic; it was Super Pearl White.

"Remember when I went to get some M&Ms? Bethany, the cute brunette working the concession stand, let me call the motel, and I asked them to pick it up. I'll say this about this town: they aim to please."

He placed Super Pearl White back into its slot. Caleb didn't want to thank Dean; it was uncomfortable to admit that painting was important and that he had another interest besides hunting. They were to be The Triad, and that required all his attention. Besides, the last time he had devoted time to his artwork, Dean had been injured. "I'll put this away for later."

Dean pushed away from his perch. "No, what you need to do is stop hovering. I'm here right now, and if I leave —"

Caleb stood up, ignoring the art supplies. "Go to Hell, Deuce. Because that's what I see in my nightmares, not flowers and green pastures."

"Dude, I'd be worried if I saw you painting flowers. A tree I could accept; that's sorta manly." Dean added a grin, but Caleb was immune to the joking at this moment.

Snippets of the nightmares wove their way into his consciousness. There was no Super Pearl White. Instead he saw Carbon Black, Permanent Carmine, Pyrrole Red, and Cadmium Red Light. The colors of darkness, blood, and fire. Those were the things he could imagine, but he had a feeling that Hell was unimaginable. He must have telegraphed his displeasure loud and clear.

"It's not your fault. The hovering isn't helping." Dean crossed his arms, a sign he wanted Caleb to give in.

"Johnny would be disappointed in me." Images of his mentor also infiltrated his nights, reliving his time on the misty New Gorge Bridge after drowning, but this time John was berating him instead of encouraging him.

"No, it's me he'd have the problem with." Dean rubbed a hand down his face. "He wouldn't have let me make the deal."

"You don't know that," Caleb quickly defended his mentor. John would have made a deal himself, as already proven when he saved Dean. He would have saved Sam, but not wanted to sacrifice one son for the sake of the other. However, Caleb felt as though he was more defending Dean's psyche. In his mind, he was righting a wrong.

Dean clapped his hands together and rubbed them. "And neither do you, 'cause Dad is dead, and we can't ask him."

He had fallen into Dean's well-made trap, and they had found themselves at a stalemate. "How about something to eat?" Caleb wavered onto safe ground. Food always brought them together, too ingrained from meals on the farm, he supposed.

Dean smiled. "I want to try the counter at the 5 and 10. I bet they have the best burgers."

"Are you still on that hunt?" They were killing time, waiting for some more darkness to do their job. Darkness would hide a lot.


Sam wore a pair of khakis instead of his usual jeans, but kept a t-shirt and button down. He hadn’t asked Dean for the car, figuring they were staying local. The town was compact, and he still wanted to investigate it.

He was tempted to knock on the door of the motel office, but instead opened it and let the bells overhead announce his arrival. He saw her in the backroom, her blonde straight hair falling in front of her profile, covering her visage.

"One minute," she called out to him as in one fluid movement she tucked her hair behind her ear. Sam took his time, studying Clara. She was wearing a yellow dress with daisy appliqués around the collar and hem. The dress was short, showing off her shapely legs. The white high-heeled sandals she wore finished the outfit. She lifted her hair up and twisted some of it. She picked a few bobby pins, placed them in her mouth, and tucked them each in until it was secure.

"You look really pretty," Sam said when she presented herself.

She smiled and clasped her hands in front of her. "Thank you."

Sam cleared his throat, breaking the silence. "Is there somewhere you want to go? I figure since I'm new in town. . ."

Clara nodded then bent down, disappearing for a moment. "Yes, can you carry this?" As if by magic she brought up a picnic basket. "I want to take you to a special place. How does walking grab you?"

"That would be great." Sam felt so awkward, as if this was his first date. In a way it was. Sarah had been someone he met on the job; then there was Jess before that, and she had been the one forthcoming in her interest while he had admired her from afar.

She grabbed his hand as she led him to a path behind the motel where they entered a wooded area. He took notice of his surroundings to make sure he wasn't being led into a trap or to be some sort of sacrifice. But in the end, after walking for forty-five minutes at an amble, he realized she was just a girl and he was just a boy. No demon involved.

"This is my happening place. I like to come out here and think." Clara dropped his hand and gestured for him to place the picnic basket on the tree stump. It wasn't homey, but he could tell someone spent time here. An area twenty feet in diameter was clear, with logs moved into a circle around a pit surrounded by stones. There were flowers planted around the perimeter which trickled in towards the middle from white to yellow to lavender.

"Did you do all this?"

"You bet your sweet bippy." She pulled a bright floral blanket from the picnic basket, laid it on the ground, being careful to minimize crushing the flowers. "I wanted to travel, but things happen and I created something for myself." She was sort of gawky with her movements as she adjusted the blankets. There probably wasn't much opportunity to date in Ellenton. "Where have you been? What have you seen?"

"Seen?" It was such a loaded question. He had seen normal men do great things. He had seen the wickedness of life. Then there was the supernatural — death by demons and whatever else that was unimaginable. Clara noticed his hesitation and clarified her question.

"Travel, I mean."

Sam was relieved he could answer easily enough, was in fact proud he had seen the lower forty-eight. "Pretty much all of it — no Alaska and Hawaii and haven’t crossed the border into Canada."

He sat down on the blanket, trying to shake the awkwardness he felt. He needed more time, like with Jess. He'd seen her first, become friends with her, then she’d asked him out. Jessica had been the person who would cheer him up, in his corner, and with a look could put him in his place when he’d crossed the line. "Tell me about your family. You're lucky they're still in your life."

Clara kicked off her sandals, then scooted on her knees behind him and touched his shoulders. "You're tense."

That was hardly a surprise. He was bearing a lot on his shoulders lately. He slouched, forcing himself to relax under her touch and allowing someone to do something for him without complaint.

She hadn't forgotten his question, and took the time as her finger pushed into a spot on his right shoulder blade. "We're connected. That's the way it has always been." She moved down towards his lower back. "You still have your family. You all seem to be close."

"Hmm?" he replied with Dean and Caleb in the furthest recess of his mind as his muscles unclenched. "You're good at this."

Clara giggled. "I know. I've been doing this for a long time."

Jess used to massage his temples and his neck when he got headaches from studying too much, but they had been nothing like this. "Are you a massage therapist?" It dawned on him that he didn't know much about her other than that she was interested in him.

"No," she again laughed. "I read a book on it." Sam felt her hands against his shirt in a more staccato motion. "I spend a lot of time at the library."

Reading and researching were good common grounds for him. "Are you going to school?"

"Every day," she replied with a slap on his back. "You should be mellow now." Effortlessly she lay on the blanket with her head by his legs. "I don’t want to leave where I am now."

Sam followed her lead and lay down, looking up to the dusty sky and green foliage swaying in the gentle breeze. "Are you afraid? Don't you want to follow your dreams?" He couldn’t imagine being a person who didn't take a risk; and college for him, as much as it was a safe environment, had been a big risk.

Clara sighed and rolled on to her side. "I live my dream each day. I don’t think many people can say that."

He felt her eyes on him, and turned his neck to find her still staring at him. Sam wondered if it was easy to read his facial expressions and what he had given away. He surely wasn't living his dream, which had become so distant he didn't know what it was anymore. The only direction to his life he had was saving Dean from Hell. "Ahh, yeah, I mean, I don't know what to say."

She giggled again, and Sam turned his body so he was facing her. "In this day and age, it's hard to find people that are feeling groovy about their lives." Clara smiled. "I'm more than just a pretty face."

Sam smiled, too, because maybe Clara was right — and she was more than a pretty face.


Muslims believed that the mouth was the holiest part of the human body because it was with the mouth that people voiced prayers to Allah. Dean had to agree, but for different reasons.

When he was young he hid in his silence, although in the silence there was fear — of what did happen and what could happen. It was paralyzing. He noticed talking provided a distraction, whether it was to piss of a poltergeist or entertain Sam, his father, or Caleb. It was easier to talk to them than be silent in his thoughts.

If these were supposed to be Dean's last few months on Earth, he wanted the good times burned into his mind, not the morose. It was hard to be the person to convince them to look to the sun and not the Earth since his belief system ran more towards the Winchesters being cursed and therefore fatalistic in attitude.

Sitting on the stool at the counter of the restaurant was enjoyable. He used to mark places of interest like these, but they were now few and far between where one could eat among the merchandise.

"New in town?" asked Bea the waitress with the large hair-sprayed hairdo.

"Yeah, helping out Mr. Francis," Dean answered. It seemed as though everyone knew everyone else's business, so it was better to tell the truth instead of the standard ‘just passing through’. "What's good, Bea?"

Dean was verging on starving. He really hadn't been injured, was glad he didn't need stitches on his temple as he itched the bandage, only to have his hand slapped by Caleb. He was jittery around needles; being pumped full of drugs, which left him with residual track marks, made him leery. He also hadn't raided the stash of pharmaceutical grade pain killer in a while. Tylenol and Ibuprofen were fine for him.

"Burgers, fries, and a shake," she said with her pencil and pad poised. "If you're looking for something fancier . . ."

"Make it a chocolate shake and a cheeseburger and you have a deal." Dean licked his lips in anticipation of possibly eating one of the best meals in his life. If not, then there was still time to find that heavenly burger.

"Make that two," Caleb added.

"Good choice." She smiled at them.

They were both quiet, taking in the atmosphere of the open grill, the cheap items in the store, and the people at the counter and behind it. The cook was playing some sort of tune with the spatula as he flipped burgers.

Bea brought the creamy shakes, and as she set them down, Caleb opened a conversation with her. "So Mr. Francis and Gwendolyn seem to be an item. Do you know anything about that, Bea?"

She pulled two straws from her apron, looking at Caleb as she handed it to him. "Gwendolyn is what they used to call a ‘charity girl’. Can't say more than that." She tapped the red counter. "Your food is coming up."

"A charity girl?" Caleb repeated the words again.

Dean was at a loss himself and tried to think about the connotations of the words. He elbowed Caleb. "That sly dog. Gwendolyn is involved in the oldest profession in the world."

Caleb shook his head with a smile. "No wonder Mom isn't a happy spirit. Can't say you'd want your son making time with a prostitute." Caleb rubbed his chin. "Didn't get that vibe from her – I mean she was definitely coming on to me, but not the same way."

Dean snorted. "I thought you never paid for sex?" He stopped the conversation when the cheeseburger-laden plate was delivered with the glowing mixture of French fries and onion rings on the side.

"I don't. Ever," Caleb replied, waving a fry to accentuate his point.

The younger hunter bit into his burger with a satisfied smile. He could only do so much with Caleb. He was older and couldn’t be manipulated like Sam. Settling down to have a parcel of kids would never be in the cards for Caleb Reaves.

His stomach was satisfied; Bea also recommended the cherry pie á la mode. The buttery crust melted in his mouth. He was still thinking about the gooey fruit as he watched Caleb dig the grave. Dean was just taking a reprieve, because a little cut was not going to stop him; however, digging on a full stomach would give him indigestion.

"I always thought things would get better. We got through your dad and Jim …" Caleb stated as he tossed a shovel full of dirt near the grave marker.

"It's going pretty good right now," Dean replied from his cross-legged position. The moon was shining on them, providing them with some light. It was a cool night, but not enough for his breath to fog.

Caleb paused in his digging, leaning against the shovel. "Deuce, we're digging a grave and about to burn a body. A freshy, and those aren’t easy to burn."

"You've had a front row view for some sucky situations in my life. I survived experimental drugs, so right now watching you dig up this grave is a top ten day for me." Dean stood, grabbed the other shovel. Two men would be quicker than one, and the topsoil was still loose, hadn't settled like with old graves. "Here and now, Damien — that's what it is all about."

He didn't know if his speech would work; it was more than likely a temporary remedy. However, together they made quick work of the grave, thankful the satin liner instigated the flame.

Dean patted the earth with the shovel. It was still early according to their standards, not even midnight. "What do you want to do now?"

"I don’t know. What do you want to do?" Caleb swung the shovel so it was on his shoulder, looking like he knew what the answer was going to be.

"Bar," Dean concluded because they did that well—hanging out at some dive, picking up women, and blowing off some steam in a non-life-threatening way.

Caleb gestured for Dean to pass over the shovel as they started to trek to the car. "This town has a bar?"

Dean hadn't noticed one, but the town was friendly, and in order to be friendly there needed to be booze. Dry towns were never friendly; they just wanted passersby to keep on going, not even using their town as a pit stop. "Gotta. Maybe even a pool table."

In the Impala, Dean drove towards the town with eyes watchful for any signs of liveliness.

"You hooking up with anyone lately?" Caleb asked while gesturing for Dean to take a turn.

"I have commitment issues at the moment." He was in no way looking for anyone with potential long term status because he never saw that for himself when he could never imagine the kind of love his father and mother had or the way Jim used to speak about his wife, Emma.

Two streets over from the main street on a dead end stood a wooden structure with an overhanging lamp that shone on a faded painted sign proclaiming 'The Blacksmith's Ale House.' The street was crowded with cars, but they slipped into a space.

"I think it’s cool that you're close to Ethan," Dean said as they walked into the night air, directed to the bar by the buzzing of music and talking in the background. He wanted to encourage the relationship for as much as it had taken him off guard earlier. “It’s not like it’s a bad idea.”

"Ye-ah, not like Ben Affleck and Jimmy Kimmel." Caleb stuffed his hands in his pockets. "He's a good guy."

Dean nodded. Being called a good guy meant that Caleb held him in esteem. "Sam and Eli are tight, too."

"Geek fest," Caleb added.

"Probably." Dean grinned with his hand on the door of the bar.

Caleb stopped him, pulling on his shirt. "You're seriously jealous."

"Who? Me? No, just thinking." Sure, he was jealous, but for different reasons. He had brought up the conversation to illustrate a point. "If you guys can't — you know — you have to move on."

"They miss their brother every day. Every day. Don't be looking to them as an example. Gideon's dead, and you're not. Sam and I aim to keep it that way," Caleb rasped, his voice holding hostility.

"Whoa, man. Chill. I don't want you two doing anything stupid." Sam was already too friendly with Ruby. Come to think of it, both him and Caleb had been far too secretive, hiding-in-the-clubhouse kind of sneaky for months now. Even though it could mean a way to save him, Dean didn’t exactly like not knowing what either of them were up to. Past experience had taught him not to trust secrets. Secrets got people killed in their world.

"All depends on what you think is stupid," Caleb answered as he opened the door.

Dean wanted to slam Caleb against the wall and find out what he was talking about, but a latent memory came to him. He was talking to Gideon during the nightmare situation with Rose. Time didn't heal all wounds. If he died, then Caleb and Sam would always miss him. Then there was the part where he would do the same for them – do whatever it takes. Either way, he didn’t want to be filling their memories with anger and confrontation. So tonight, all he wanted to do was enjoy himself.

"I need a drink and you're paying," Caleb said as he led the way towards the bar, finding two bar stools in the corner overlooking the bar and the side anteroom with the pool table. This place was getting better and better.

There was a man in a set of gray overalls hunkered over the bar, speaking to the bartender who had yet to take their order as he cleaned glasses.

"Are you the mechanic in this town?" Dean asked, taking a chance that the clothing fit the profession. It was why Sam liked costumes to get them into places.

The shorter man tilted his chin up. "Want to make something of it?"

"Man, you're a genius." Dean put out his hand to the man. "Name's Dean."

"Man crush," Caleb whispered in his ear.

"Shut up and order yourself something to drink." Dean pushed Caleb off with a grin and focused his attention on the mechanic who had introduced himself as Neal.

Caleb soon joined the conversation, trying admirably to keep up with Dean and Neal. After an hour, Neal decided to call it a night after extracting a promise to bring the Impala to the garage.

"As Neal said, those two floosies still watching us?" Dean smiled into his beer as he asked Caleb.

Caleb snorted. "Of course, and here they come."

Dean turned in his seat to see the blonde curly-haired girl with the shredded clothes sidle up to him. "I love Madonna."

"I see that," Dean replied, noticing the girl was working the 'Like A Virgin' video.

The other girl was a brunette with short cropped hair wearing a beaded dress over her straight figure. She was warming up to Caleb. Sam wasn't going to be the only one with female companionship for the night.


 Chapter 4

Thin little scratches trickled red, then split open, gushing purple, red liquid…


The nightmare awoke him again as he heaved in gulps of air. The image of the Hellhounds slicing into Dean's body reverberated through his mind, leaving him shaky. He swung his legs out of the sheets, wiping down his mouth before standing. The door between the rooms was ajar, and blearily Caleb went into the room.

Dean slept, safe and whole in the motel bed. As Caleb watched the younger man sleep, he felt guilty — not for doing his job and watching over Dean, but for keeping secrets from him. Caleb had taken the amulet from the farm, then used it. It had saved Dean; he didn't regret it. On the other hand, Dean did not know the full extent of the amulet's ability, how Caleb had been able to possess demons. But even under the weight of the guilt that filled the room with his thoughts, Dean slept on, admirably dealing with his own demons even while trying to make sure Sam and Caleb remained intact. He had made sure Sam had gone on the date, and then had given him the art set in encouragement of the future, the future he hoped they would find in Pennsylvania with the Romany providing a way out of Dean's deal.

Caleb noticed Sam's bed was not slept in. He felt the need to talk to Dean, wanting to tell him the truth and use Sam as an excuse to assuage his conscience.

"Deuce?" he whispered, hoping Dean wouldn't awaken.

"Go back to sleep, Damien." Dean didn't move, his words mumbled into his pillow. "I know Sam's not in yet — let him have a good time."

"Yeah, I know he's fine." His warning system as The Knight, along with his psychic abilities, would have told him if Sam was in trouble. He swallowed, but started his confession before he could change his mind. "I did something stupid."

"I'm listening," Dean replied to the darkness, still not moving. He knew as well as Caleb that the late hour never brought good news. They had come in only an hour earlier, both having spent the night in the company of others and meeting at the door with twin grins.

Caleb was glad for the darkness that allowed him to avoid looking directly into Dean's eyes. "I took Noah Seaver's amulet from the farm." The Guardian was the owner of the antiquities; and worse, Dean had entrusted Caleb specifically to take care of the amulet. Further than that, Dean trusted him to take care of Sam and himself. The reveal brought only limited relief, but he was scared to admit more so found the quickest cop out he could come up with that wouldn’t sound like fear. "Get some rest; I know you had a long night with Jenny." They had both sowed their oats — loose women were a Godsend, although Pastor Jim would disagree. "We'll talk more in the morning." He backed away, losing his nerve to admit he had given in to his demon side.

"Damien, I'm awake.” Dean turned over, crossing his arms under his head. "I know you made a deal with the devil. You took the amulet to trade it for me."

Caleb felt another jab of guilt; he was going to have to explain the abilities of the amulet, and how it had affected him. "No…I mean I took it before that — after Wyoming."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?"

Caleb blamed Dean for wanting to know more, even though he knew that he would feel the same. They had all put enough pressure on each other over the years when it was obvious that there was more to a story. This time, it was Dean who deserved to know the rest. "No, probably not."

Dean pushed himself up, turning on the light on the nightstand. "Did you use it?"

"Yes," he answered, taking a seat on Sam's made bed. He rubbed the back of his head, waiting for Dean to say something more.

"What the fuck were you thinking? If I didn't feel the need to tiptoe around you and Sam, then I would . . ." Dean pounded his hand against the pillow.

If there wasn't a deadline looming, then there would be conflict between Dean and Caleb. It wasn’t like either of them to let something go that quickly. The psychic realized he was in fact truly getting off easily, though Dean had a long memory and in the future, after they got him out of the deal, it could come back to haunt him. "I wasn’t thinking. I just knew that I needed to save you…I think you can relate." Sacrificing, it was what they did well.

Dean swung his legs over the side, facing his friend. "Are you crazy? You had no clue what that thing might do."

Caleb licked his lips, the realization of his foolishness at using the amulet hitting him again. "I had an idea, and all the research I did said it could be used by demons to possess other demons, use their abilities."

Dean shook his head. "You say that like it’s a fucking good thing."

"At the time I thought it was." Caleb had since regretted the decision — not the attempt to save his friend, but the chance he’d taken, the position he placed Sam in.

"That pisses me off even more. You knew what it could do and still used it." Dean ran a hand through his hair. "Shit. That’s why you looked like hell."

"It worked." Caleb couldn’t deny the fact. He gestured to the still-existing marks on Dean's arms from the drugs that Rose had given him. They looked like innocuous white scaly patches, but they were much more. "Whatever fucked up DNA I have, it served its purpose. I possessed an upper level demon so Sammy and I could get you out of Rose's hell hole." He swallowed thickly, remembering how Rose had almost turned the tables on them. "I thought I could possess the demon who holds your contract, but Rose pointed out the holes in that theory."

Dean clenched his jaw. "Where is it now?"

"Gone. I told you after you came to that we destroyed it." It had been hard to close that door and believe the evidence presented. The plan would never work. He had wasted time they just didn’t have.

"Are you sure about that?"

"Deuce…" He recognized the doubt in the green gaze and hated that his actions put it there, that he might have done more damage than good.

"Swear it."

Caleb twisted the ring on his finger. "I swear. Sam put his typical logical spin on it, made me destroy it after we knew you were out of the woods."

"Good. Sam did good keeping you in check."

"Yeah. He’s practically the little angel on my shoulder." Caleb wasn’t going to point out the fact that Sam had helped him or kept his secret. Sam would have to choose if and when to discuss his own issues with his brother because he was keeping a secret all his own.

Dean clenched his right hand and bounced it off the mattress. "Stop doing stupid shit to save me, Caleb. Make sure my brother doesn’t do the same. How do you think I could pick up the pieces if I was safe but you or Sam were darkside?"

Sam had told him before that Dean was worried about them giving in to the evil. He hadn't realized how pressing it was for the other hunter. "We're saving you."

"But I don't want you losing yourselves in the process. This isn't just about me – and you're going to have to believe me. That up close personal time with Rose gave me lots of time to think things through." Dean rubbed his head.

Caleb had no idea what Dean meant. He hadn't spoken about his time with Rose. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, yeah, get a grip and tell your cohort the same thing. If you're going to save me, then do it right or don't do it at all." Dean lay back down on the bed. "Go to sleep. And stop checking to see if I'm breathing, too. Next thing, you'll have a mirror under my nose. . ."

Caleb stood. "Mirror under your nose?" The older hunter didn't understand.

"When Sam was a baby. . .never mind." Dean got a look on his face, but quickly shook it off, raised his hand, then moved it to shut off the light. "I've had a hard night. Jenny was something else. . .We're good, Damien."

Caleb hesitated. "Dean…"

Dean turned to sleep on his side.

Caleb smiled into the night. "Swear it?"

Dean sighed and turned over again. "You want a pinky promise, bitch?"

"Your word’s good enough for me."

"Same here."

Caleb nodded. "Good. Because Jenny’s friend was a wildcat. Two words: bite marks." He pattered back off to bed, feeling he was going to have an hour of uninterrupted sleep by ridding himself of the weighing guilt.

After the sun had risen, the door in the other room clicked closed. Caleb remained in bed, listening to the brothers in the other room, enjoying overhearing the conversation like he used to do when he was younger, back when the conversation wasn't about women.

"Look at what the cat dragged in," Dean started in on Sam so that Caleb could hear the face-splitting grin on the inquisitor’s face.

"We watched the sunrise" came Sam's reply.

"Really," Dean answered.

"Yes really, and even if anything else happened, I'm not telling you." It sounded like Sam had reverted into a teenager.

"You suck." Dean had also regressed.

Caleb was amused, interrupting the brothers by speaking loudly as he got out of bed. "Deuce, how good could his stories be? I'm the one with the lost weekend with. . ." He began his story about the supermodel.

"Go back to sleep," Dean ordered when he saw Caleb at the adjoining door. Sam was sitting on his bed, fully dressed. Dean was relaxed against the headboard.

"Did you take care of it?" Sam asked, his eyes going between his brother and Caleb.

"Of course we took care of it," Dean replied as he kicked off his blankets.

"So?" Caleb prompted Sam to talk about his date with Clara. It was fun to try to embarrass the younger hunter. "How did it go?"

"Fine." Sam rolled his eyes.

"She's the type that cries at road kill, isn't she?" Dean quipped, joining in to get a reaction from his brother.

Caleb saw Sam shaking his head. "You're not going to tell us?"


"Dude, that's, like, totally uncool." Dean stood, going to his bag to pick up some clothes.

Sam snorted, then lay back on the bed. "Who the hell were you with? Valley Girl much?"

Dean sniffed a shirt then shrugged, accepting it. "Like we're going to tell you."

"They were sisters," Caleb started, rubbing his chest. His t-shirt was covering the love bites.

"Cousins," Dean corrected before he shuffled off into the bathroom with a pile of clothes. Caleb guessed that meant they were going to start the day early. Sam seemed to be dozing off fully clothed.

"Last night I told Dean." Caleb remained standing over Sam's bed, waiting for a reaction.

"Told him what?"

"About the amulet. Everything."

Sam opened his eyes, then jutted his chin at Caleb. "Good for you. I know it was bothering you."

Caleb didn't know where along the line Sam had gained a hardness about him. Yes, hunters were not supposed to be sensitive, but Sam's emotions had always been an asset to him. There was now a void, and Caleb was scared to even probe it. "Be good if you could get rid of that secret."

"I'm not talking about Clara." Sam shifted with a sigh, then closed his eyes, trying to melt into the metallic threaded bedspread.

Caleb could hazard many guesses about the secret. There were clues from Sam's own mouth, not from where his mind secured the matter. This had something to do with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. Then there had been the amulet. It had changed under Sam's touch. "You know that's not what I'm talking about."

Sam rolled to his side, away from Caleb. "I'm going to get a quick nap while you two get ready."

Caleb shook his head. What he could sense from Sam was a growing fear, and it was more than fear of losing Dean. It was the same fear Caleb had felt with the amulet — fear of losing himself. As much as he hated to admit it, Caleb was relying on Sam to be steadfast and logical, and the younger hunter couldn’t afford to become unhinged because he was hiding some demon connection.

Caleb hoped he had time for at least a twenty minute shower with Dean having to clean up, and then Sam would want to do the same. Twenty minutes would give him some time to clear his head. So when he got the chance, he concentrated on shaving, not anything outside his own little world until there was pounding on the door.

"Get out here. We've got company," Dean announced.

Caleb's hair was still damp as he wiped away the remnants of shaving cream from his chin. Their guest was ringing his hands, standing in the middle of the room. "Mr. Francis?"

"We were going to stop later and check on if there were any more ghostly activities," Dean explained, he and Sam giving the other man as wide a berth as possible.

Mr. Francis covered his face with his hands. "It didn't work."

"Pardon me?" Caleb frowned as he looked towards the brothers in confusion.

"That digging up the grave and salting it, and then lighting it on fire?" Mr. Francis kept one hand on his face and gestured with the other one.

Sam elbowed his brother, but Dean ignored him. "What are you talkin' about?"

"You're hunters — members of The Brotherhood, from the rings you are wearing. I'm honored, by the way."

Dean pulled out a chair and pushed Mr. Francis into it.

Sam looked at Caleb, then Dean. Caleb and Dean both wore rings and never thought that it was noticeable to others that there was a connection. "We aren't — "

"Give it up, Sam." Dean waved his brother off. "What's going on? Our friends were here twenty years ago. . ."

Mr. Francis bowed his head. "I remember them. I lied before. I am sorry."

Caleb was taken aback. Jim had been here. They had found a link to their missing friend. They were few and far between, which made this job that much more precious and confusing. "So are you going to tell us more of the truth now?"

Mr. Francis looked up. "People come to the house to die. Normally some hunter comes, burns the bones, and ends the haunting."

It was a weird set-up. "So you arrange to be haunted?" Caleb could not fathom why someone would want a ghost running loose in a home. Unsettled spirits caused problems.

"And you get tourists," Sam filled in with a shake of his head.

"Exactly," Mr. Francis affirmed.

"Capitalism at its best." Caleb felt there was more to the story, but couldn’t get a reading that said anything different. He didn't believe mass brainwashing was involved.

They were all pondering the situation, since to his recollection no other hunter had been in a similar situation. Even Bobby and Jim had dealt with their errant spirit. The door knocking broke the silence.

"Now who?" Dean asked with a growl.

Sam shrugged his shoulders and opened the door. "Clara?"

"Sam." She pinked up when he said her name and gave him a smile until she looked further into the room. "Mr. Francis?"

"At least someone should come over with a cup of coffee," Dean muttered, with which Caleb had to agree. Caffeine was needed to help them.

"It didn't work." Mr. Francis directed the comment to Clara before covering his eyes with his hand.

"Bummer. Has that ever happened before?" Clara cocked her head so her hair spilled over to one side, but it was strangely balanced by the rest of her outfit: a turquoise blue one-piece pants set which zippered up the front and had flared pant legs.

"No," Mr. Francis squeaked.

Clara nodded. "Gotcha. I'm going to call Mom and Dad. Just don't freak out." She held her hands up to placate Mr. Francis as she moved to the in-room phone.

"You know about us, too?" Sam asked quietly.

She nodded as she tucked the phone between her shoulder and ear. "That you're hunters? You bet your sweet bippy, Sam. We need your help." She then spoke into the phone.

Caleb shared a look with Dean. Sam couldn’t do one night stands well. She was quirky, slightly geeky, and good-looking. Sam and she went together, and Caleb thought it was a bonus she knew about their line of work. There would be no messy conversations like Dean’s with Cassie all those years ago. For himself, Caleb didn’t believe in long-lasting relationships with women. That didn’t mean he couldn’t still believe in one for Sam or even Dean.

Dean reached out and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. Sam shrugged. "I am so confused."

"Usually they go away, but she's mean, mean I tell you," Mr. Francis mumbled.

Caleb brushed a hand through his hair. They had lost complete control of the situation, especially when the motel owners showed up at the door ringing their hands, and the general murmur level increased tenfold.

"Everyone chill," Dean announced, taking center stage. "You've been jerking hunters around for a hundred years, and now you want our help? You purposefully set up to haunt a house. That's dangerous, people."

Clara looked ready to speak, but Dean silenced her with his hand. "We're going to help you. But you need to leave. Leave and come back with food, then leave again. I think you guys have done enough."

Walter cleared his throat, waited until Dean nodded his permission to speak. "Do you have an idea about what might be causing Widow Francis to stay?"

Sam turned his head to his brother as well as Caleb. It was a Guardian moment in which they were looking for some direction. Pastor Jim had had the same effect. "She left something behind," Dean answered, his eyes drifting to Mr. Francis.

"Me — I'm her son," he squeaked as he stood up and backed into Caleb.

The psychic steadied him. "Usually we have to get rid of what a spirit leaves behind."

"For crying out loud! I don’t want to die." Mr. Francis wrenched himself from Caleb's hands.

Caleb had reached his frustration point, and since Mr. Francis was the nearest target, he shook the smaller man. "You're not going to die, not yet. You need to give us some time to think of a plan. Can you do that?"

"Fair enough." Mr. Francis neatened his mustached. "I don't think you're giving me a bum steer."

"I'll walk you back," Clara volunteered.

"Clara, I — " Sam started with an unreadable emotion.

She gave him a smile. "I'm not dropping out. I'll be back."

Finally they were alone, and they looked in varying degrees of disheveled. Sam was perplexed, Dean was frowning, and Caleb was still damp from his shower.

"That feeling that there is more going on than we know?" Caleb looked beyond the two brothers and out the window as Walter, his wife, Clara, and Mr. Francis crossed the parking lot.

"Yeah?" Dean asked, pulling a chair and turning it around to sit in it.

"I still have it. We're missing a part of the puzzle." The townspeople had been honest, telling them they had lured the hunters and tourists to the area, but still something didn't feel right. He had tried to read their minds, but there had been no red flag.

"Well, they asked for help, so we'll help and see what else we can figure out." Dean looked at his brother, waiting for an acknowledgement. Sam sighed. "I think we need to take a page out of Duran's book."

"Duran?" Sam sat down on the bed, his focus back on to the hunt.

"That bastard never had a good idea." Caleb wondered what scheme Dean had thought up; using something Hughes had done did not sound like a good idea.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Séance."

Jim had frowned upon them, as did Mackland. A séance was gathered with the express purpose to communicate with the spirit of a departed person. A psychic or medium like Duran was used to bridge the two worlds. Caleb immediately crossed his arms over his chest. "I've never done one. Maybe there's another way. . ."

Dean shook his head. "Can't burn the house. She's connected to it because of her son, and we can't kill him. He loves Gwendolyn, so he's going to have to make that clear to Mom." Dean gave a wide grin. "And yes, Sam, I know weddings make you cry."

"A wedding?" Caleb didn't understand where Dean was going with this plan and, quite frankly, was starting to wonder if in fact he did have a serious concussion.

"I know they make you tear up, too." Dean mockingly wiped away a fake tear.

Caleb shivered; the idea of being tied down was contrary to him. It was like the wolf gnawing its leg to get out of the trap. "For good reason: I feel sorry for the sap."

"Anyway, we invite Mom to the wedding. What could possibly go wrong?" Dean crossed his arms as if he had explained everything.

Sam rolled his eyes. "The fact that we don't have a bride or groom."

"Pfft." Dean waved away the legitimate issue. "You're going to do some research on séances while we talk to Gwendolyn. I'm guessin' you shouldn’t believe the hype and that she's a one guy woman. Just seems like she got a reputation from the way she looks, and I need my trusty psychic sidekick so we can say exactly the right thing."

"Hey!" Caleb called attention to himself, but was ignored by the boys. He wasn't the 'sidekick'; he was The Knight. Twenty years in John Winchester’s indentured servitude had earned him his way out of sidekick status a long time ago.

"I can do some research on the internet, and Clara mentioned the library," Sam stated as he leaned over and picked up the little sign announcing wireless internet throughout the room.

Caleb was being pulled out of the room by Dean, who was wagging his finger at his brother. "And don't you get any ideas of hooking up with Clara until after you research."

"Jerk," Sam replied.


"I'm being used for my mind, not my body." Caleb shook his head. He was well aware he was handsome, and this had an effect on females. He only used his psychic abilities secondarily when it came to talking to a pretty woman.

Dean snorted. "Live with it."


Chapter 5

Dean pulled Caleb along with him. They had to go find out where Gwendolyn lived, which required a simple conversation with Walter. He looked at the door before stepping away. Caleb, done with his protesting, must have noticed Dean's pensiveness.

"What's the matter?"

"You don't think things are going to go south with Clara, do you?" Dean was worried about his brother. Sam seemed to like the girl, and she had lied to him. It was a lie of omission, something the Winchesters were quite familiar with, but a lie nonetheless with Sam being the one lied to. Caleb had voiced and was still having a feeling that the townspeople were hiding something, and it spelled trouble.

"How far south?" Caleb asked as he slowed down their pace to the motel office.

Dean shook his head as he thought of Madison. He had tried to protect Sam, but his brother was honorable, fulfilling Madison's request at the cost of his soul. Dean knew Sam was in a constant state of vigilance about going evil, especially after extracting their father’s last words from him. Dean also kept an eye on his brother's moral compass. He had risked a lot for Madison, and Dean couldn't allow the same for Clara. "Like put a bullet in her heart kind of south. Because we did encourage him..."

Caleb squeezed his arm, and Dean stopped walking. "I don't think Marcia Brady is some kind of succubus, if that's what you're asking."

"How about a werewolf or any of the other supernatural baddies?" Dean asked to make sure there was no risk to Sam. If so, then he would kill Clara himself rather than have his brother harmed. His kid brother had been hurt enough for too many lifetimes. They all had.

The older hunter shook his head. "No, none of that, just that she's not wearing a bra, so I guess that makes her a bit of a bad girl."

"You noticed that?" He switched gears — needed to switch gears — and lifted his eyebrows.

"Like you didn't." Caleb gave him a slight push as they entered the motel office.

Walter directed them to the town's only boarding house. Boarding houses were notoriously seedy, a way station for those who needed a longer term commitment than a hotel but were willing to share kitchens and baths with strangers. John Winchester used to steer his family clear of them, and only used them in desperation when money was running short.

However, this building was different. It was a three story brick building where windows had boxes overflowing with flowers trailing to the next level. The entryway was clean, and a directory of names was posted. Only four people lived there, which could explain the neatness since it wasn't filled to capacity.

Gwendolyn lived on the third floor, and there were no other boarders listed for that floor. They listened at the door first before knocking. Gwendolyn called through the door, asking who it was, and Caleb announced them.

She was dressed in a similar gown to what they had seen her in before, long, flowing. She beckoned them inside of her room. Where the hallway was bare, her room was a riot of florals and bows. It was very frilly, girly, and uncomfortable. This was not a room where men were brought for Gwendolyn to service them.

"We wanted to stop by and check if you were okay," Caleb started, which was part of the plan since he was the one with the connection to the woman.

Gwendolyn rubbed Caleb's forearm. "Aren't you boys just what the doctor ordered?"

Dean raised his brows. "We saw Mr. Francis. He's shaken up."

Her eyes grew wide with what could be easily read as concern. She dropped Caleb's arm.

"He's fine. His mother —" Dean explained, but was interrupted by Gwendolyn.

"Has him over a barrel." She sat on the chaise lounge, graceless, then extended her legs out.

Caleb sidled up to the lounger. "I have to ask: you're a beautiful woman, why him? There has to be someone else." It was said in a teasing tone, but her answer is what they needed a read on.

Dean saw her shocked reaction. But she seemed to catch herself and winked at them. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

They stayed for a few more minutes and then made their exit.

"Well?" Dean asked as they walked down the stairs.

Caleb shrugged his shoulders. "She talks a good game. We should get some pointers from her."

"Speak for yourself," Dean teased.

"I taught you everything you know." Caleb pulled his shirt to stop him.

Dean smiled and rubbed his chest. "And I improved upon it."

"You can't tell." Caleb released the shirt, which Dean straightened into place as he frowned at the insult thrown at him. However, he had started it. "Anyway, there's no one else but him."

"I'm right again," Dean stated. He had wanted to take the direct route on this hunt, but the bone burning hadn't worked, and they couldn’t burn down the house. So he used a little originality, which was actually away from violence, shocking both Sam and Caleb. Sometimes hunts weren't about guns. This one required some finesse.

Dean was going to prove to his brother and friend he could do finesse. He didn't always like to be associated with being the brawn of an operation. As Guardian, he had to show he could think things out and not rush into violence. He hoped he had the chance to become The Guardian; he wanted to show Jim he could do the job well, take pride in it.

They went to the restaurant and spoke to some of the staff, then to the counter at the five and dime store. They had formed an accurate picture of Gwendolyn — she wasn't the cliché call girl with a heart of gold. She wasn't a prostitute, floosy, a woman of ill repute, or any of the other names they had heard about town. She was Marvin Francis's woman and there was no one else. "I wonder who started her reputation?" Dean asked Caleb as they walked back to the room from the parking lot.

"She probably laughed at a guy that had a low batting average."

Dean snorted. It was an issue they did not have.

When they caught up to Sam, he was hovering over the computer where there was a lingering scent of soft perfume in the air. Clara had been there, and Sam seemed content. He just hoped Clara was on the up and up, for all their sakes.

"Find anything out?"

"Yeah, I found some stuff on séances." Sam directed himself to Caleb. "You're going to have to read it to figure out how to use your abilities."

"Great, 'cause now I need you." Dean pulled Sam up and pushed Caleb into the chair vacated by Sam.

"Hey, what is this? Interchangeable psychics?" Caleb protested, attempting to get up until Dean pointed to him.

"No, I need him for his face. Yours screams ‘bad boy’." He gave his friend's face a light pat. "His says ‘nice guy’." He squeezed Sam's cheeks. "I need nice guy."

Sometimes he enjoyed the idea of being The Guardian and having Caleb and Sam follow his orders. Lord knows he had a hard enough time getting them to do it otherwise.

They had to meet Mr. Francis away from the house, away from the mean spirit, so they chose the bar Caleb and he had been in the night before. Sam put Mr. Francis at ease, convincing him they weren't coming to kill him or burn the house. "So what would make your mother disown you?" Sam asked over his glass bottle of Coke.

"If I made an honest woman of Gwendolyn and married her." Mr. Francis laughed a bit, then looked at them when he noticed neither Dean nor his brother were laughing. "I…I…c-c-can't."

Dean got in closer to Mr. Francis. "She has a reputation. . ."

"She does."

"Look, this may be hard to believe, but sometimes people get a reputation…one little thing gets blown up. . .like digging up a grave and then suddenly there's a murder rap." His brother interrupted his soliloquy with a less than subtle cough. This was hardly about some of their small, minor infractions which had been blown up by the FBI, even if the example made more sense to them than to Mr. Francis. "Anyway, for all the talk, there's only you — I looked into it personally."

"He means he interviewed the locals." Sam stepped in again. He looked down, before bringing his gaze back up and speaking with intensity. "Do you love her? Because if you do, then you should marry her. Don't wait, just do it."

It was Dean who was taken aback. Sam's regret was evident — he wished he had married Jessica or given her a ring before that fateful weekend. Sam belonged to her and her to Sam, but an engagement, a ring, made it known to the whole world. Dean wondered what his intentions were about Clara.

Mr. Francis's eyes watered, but he gave them a small smile. "Do you think she'll say yes?"


Dean, Caleb, and Sam were impressed and scared. The town pulled together a wedding within two hours, complete with the gazebo decorated with white paper wedding bells, which was being used as the ceremony site. The reception would be later at the Francis house. They stayed in the back to watch the 'I dos'; Dean watched Sam while Caleb studied Dean. He could guess what was going on in Dean's mind: worry, worry about Sam's feelings. Sam seemed to be holding up well, maybe imagining himself with Jess or even Clara. Caleb decided to distract them; he placed his finger on Dean's cheek.

"Is that a tear, Deana?"

Dean batted the hand away. "You kidding me? My hero is Boone. He and Kathleen are going on what, twenty years?"

Caleb didn't see himself as marrying anyone, let alone settling with someone for twenty years. It was the fear of denying someone children. The Reaves line would end with him — he didn't want to risk passing along any demonic genes.

For Dean, not getting married had to do more with not caring about society and having some license to say he was committed to someone. Caleb whistled softly. "That's commitment phobia talking," he teased.

Dean frowned. "Pot, kettle, black."

Caleb chuckled, and was about to start a discussion about how if Dean had taken Jim's advice then Dean would be a polygamist, when Sam quietly told them both off.

"Would you two shut up?" he interjected, his eyes straight forward on the ceremony taking place.

"You shut up." Dean elbowed his brother. "I hate to spoil the ending for you, Sammy, but they're going to kiss. We should head to the house."

Dean pulled his brother away, and Caleb followed, clasping a hand on both of the brothers’ shoulders while he mockingly choked out the words, "I love a happy ending." It was an intended double entendre. However, he truly wanted to believe there could be a happy ending, especially within The Brotherhood. Mac wanted them to have other lives, and Caleb agreed that was the way of the future.

Dean smirked. "Don't we all?"

Caleb looked back at Mr. and Mrs. Francis. They didn't have their happy ending just yet, but if he had anything to say about it, they would in about an hour.

Once they were back at the house, there was a lot to prepare. They set five chairs around the dining room table. The reception was going to be held outside, so they would have limited privacy. Dean made a thick line of salt. He also had primed the rock salt rifle. He would be the only one able to react. Caleb and Sam didn't know how deep of a trance they would need to be in to conjure the widow.

While he and Sam went over their game plan again, Dean was relegated to manual labor outside, but it was done with pride as Dean did everything with his hands, whether it was working on the car or creating an EMF detector.

As Sam had said, Dean was unsure of psychic abilities, just has his father had been. Caleb could understand that, especially with how he had been with the amulet. Then there was Sam, whose own bouts with his abilities had saved Dean, but also scared him. It was all demon-linked in the end, and that was hard for even someone as magnanimous as Deuce to reconcile.

"What if we connect with something we can't handle?" Sam said, flipping a page he had printed out.

"Then your brother will. He's our insurance policy. It's not like we won't recognize it. Remember what I said about our link?" When Dean had been missing and Caleb involved the amulet in their crazy plan, Sam was left being the one to make sure Caleb didn't release another evil on the world.

"Yeah. This just feels wrong — and not just because Duran Hughes used to do them."

"But because Jim didn't approve." Hughes had been after his own fame and fortune, going against The Brotherhood. He had gotten what he deserved. Human kills were always regretted, but he had been a traitor. Jim was surprised at the death; he hadn't liked Duran, but he was still part of The Brotherhood up until he had hurt Sam, then Dean. Then the only thing that mattered to the pastor was to see his core unit unharmed. "Yeah, I know, kid."

"But Dean's the new Guardian, and it is the best idea we got."

"Yeah, but don't get used to them." The temptation would be too great to do more séances — his parents, Sam's parents, Sam's girlfriend, Pastor Jim. "I don't think we're going to be talking to the dead on a weekly basis."

"You two ready, 'cause they're here," Dean interrupted, the door slamming behind him while he wiped his hands on his jeans.

The front door opened, Gwendolyn and her husband came in laughing with her hand held near his mouth. "We came straight from the aisle. Neal drove us," Mr. Francis explained.

"Neal's gonna be here?" Dean's face lit up.

"Deuce's man crush," Caleb explained Dean's reaction toward the mechanic to Sam.

Dean frowned. "Shut up." He then tightened the curtains in the room to limit the light as much as possible.

"We should get started," Sam stated, unwilling to put up with any more of the bantering. He gestured to the chairs for the bride and groom. "Caleb and I will bring your mother within this room. All of you need to think of her. Happy memories are best."

"What do you want me to think about?" Dean asked as he repositioned the rifle.

Caleb winked at him. "You just sit there and look pretty." He cleared his throat. The room was protected so that once the widow was called forth, she couldn’t leave the room. They held hands, forming an awkward circle. Caleb connected with Dean on one side and Mr. Francis's clammy hand on the other. Caleb ignored the nervousness and let the silence envelop him. He then sought his connection to Sam. They had to take precautions to exclude evil entities.

Caleb felt the moment of recognition with Sam, and they sought out Mr. Francis, whose connection to his mother was the strongest. They were using his feelings to call forth his mother. The darkness of the room heightened their senses, making the room and their minds limitless. It was from this feeling they connected with the widow. Sam flinched back, and the curtains billowed. Caleb opened his eyes. "She's in the room," he announced to the others, but mentally again connected with Sam. 'Be alert.'

"Talk to her," Sam prodded, still holding hands but gesturing to Mr. Francis with his neck.

He lifted Gwendolyn's hand. "Mother, I want you to meet my new wife." He again brought his hand to his lips.

The screeching started immediately, emanating from above their heads. They looked up; Caleb saw Dean's hands already wrapped around the rifle, ready to pounce. While they were looking up, the table started to levitate, then moved back and forth, hitting them. Dean shot the rock salt into the air.

"Hey, be nice," Dean yelled, then patrolled the perimeter with the rifle.

"Keep talking." Caleb knocked on the settled table to focus all of their attentions.

"Gwendolyn is a good woman. She makes me happy. That's what you want for your son, I would hope."

Gwendolyn stood up and opened her arms. "I'll take good care of him."

The sconces exploded in succession, showering them with glass. Dean dove across the table to bring Gwendolyn down. They all ducked under the table, which really wasn't going to provide them much protection for long.

"This is going well." Caleb unlatched the ankle holster. He didn't want a conspicuous rifle, but at least having a knife and gun would make him feel better.

"Can you send her back?" Dean said after shooting another spray of rock salt.

Caleb shook his head. "A séance is a one way trip. We can't just pull out the phone cord and end the call."

The table lifted up, then crashed down repeatedly. The chairs flew in the air in a circle, going no further than the salt line. They had removed anything else that had potential to hurt them, so the widow was using what was available.

Gwendolyn was wrapped around her husband. "Do something!"

He looked at her, squared his shoulders, and removed her hands as he stood. The maelstrom ceased for a moment. "You either accept this or we're going to move out of the house, and we'll let them burn it down."

Caleb was impressed; however, the threat may have been too much for the widow.

"Move!" Caleb heard Dean yell as they were pummeled by the bits of the broken dinette. "Go out the front door! Now! I'll cover!"

He saw the circle of salt was still standing, but didn't know for how long. The spirit was causing turbulence in the two hundred square foot room. Caleb stood his ground until Sam pushed him. "Help me with them." He pushed Mr. Francis into his arms. They stumbled out of the dining room into the main part of the house. Caleb sensed Dean was right behind them.

"Keep going!" Dean ordered, having left the shelter of the table and firing in the general direction of the spirit.

They were at the door; Caleb threw it open and pushed Mr. Francis out. He turned to go help Dean, but was caught up with Sam struggling to make it with Gwendolyn. He eyed a picture on the wall, yanked if off, and used it as a shield to protect Gwendolyn from the debris. With heavy breath they made it out, only to have the door slam shut with Dean trapped inside.


Chapter 6

Dean was running, could see the open door and the backs of Sam and Caleb, and thought he would be on the outside in a moment — until he was thrown back. The door slammed shut as he was set into the staircase. He felt the stairs strike his back, but only with enough force to bruise rather than break. He set a blast full of rock salt into the air recklessly to give him a momentary reprieve. He used the time to spring forth towards the door. He heard Caleb and Sam banging against it, calling for him.

"I'm fine!" he yelled.

"Deuce! Dean!" He heard at the same time.

"She won't let me out!" He charged towards one of the nearby windows, figuring it was as good an escape as any. But the widow was equally as clever and pulling the heavy drapes in succession, sealing him off.

The room was plunged into a strange darkness tinged with the color of the drapes as the light fought to penetrate through. The glass on the front door allowed some light through, but it was blocked by the distorted images of Sam and Caleb. "I'm okay. You got anything out there?" He had his duffle slung across his body. He pulled out the salt and made a three foot protective circle. He needed some time to think.

He hoped his brother and friend could draw some attention, but the widow was all about him. "What I get for playin' fuckin' matchmaker." He studied the room. It was the living room they had been through just the other day. Suddenly the flowering wallpaper was threatening instead of just decorative. He had to find a way out.

"Dean!" he heard his brother's husky voice through the glass. "Don't instigate her. Clara and the others are going to help." Sam must have gotten a ladder and put it up against the house, because while he was freakishly tall, he wasn't Mr. Fantastic.

He couldn’t imagine how the Brady Bunch was going to help. Contrary to what his brother believed, he wasn't reckless. He wanted to live up to his year and beyond.

"They're married, Lady, get over it. They aren't going to get a divorce 'cause you're menopausal."

If he was going to find a solution, it was going to have to be with whatever was in the room. The way he’d come through was destroyed. The kitchen was behind another door in the corner, but kitchens were notoriously dangerous. Knives were involved. They hadn’t bothered to clear out the rest of the house, hoping that they’d be able to contain the old bat in the dining room. He turned slowly in his circle. There had to be something.

In the meantime, the salt circle was moving; it was only going to provide a temporary reprieve. Like with the rock salt shells, he had to think of a better delivery system for protective circles. Maybe incorporating a glue product, he thought, until he zeroed in on the fireplace. "That's it – you encouraged an Oedipus complex, or is it Electra?" He kept up his taunts as he dove to the fireplace and grabbed the poker, slashing it in the air.

Thankfully, old houses had iron fireplace sets, not cheap substitutes made in a foreign country.

She came at him now that he left his circle, swooping at him, causing him to pivot and slash ineffectively in a stalemate. "What does this prove? They are safe outside — the townspeople will protect them. And you can't go outside because I salted the perimeter."

Dean didn't know how much a ghost could sense, hear, or understand. No one ever took the time to ask since they were usually caught up in their own dilemmas. "So know what they're going to do? Hey, Damien! Is that gasoline I smell?"

He was thankful Caleb could read his mind. For one thing, it would at least lower Caleb and Sam's panic level to know he was okay; and for another, he could play along.

"Yeah, sorry, man, stay low and I think you'll make it out, but we've got to burn the place down."

It must have been believable because she stopped and began to take on a form in front of him. She shimmered just feet away, like the picture on the staircase but transparent.

He had the rifle under one arm and the poker in the other pointed at her stern face. She didn't speak so, feeling foolish, he opened up the discussion. "I grew up without a mom, and I would have given anything. . . I hope she would have trusted me to make good choices, to be the son she could be proud of —"

The widow flickered. He took it as a sign he was getting to her.

"I don’t think I'm wrong when I say she'd want me to be happy." There was always a piece of him that wished there was something that could turn back time and have his mother and father in his life, to grow up with the normal angst of being a son, not a hunter. He licked his lips, got a harder grip on the rifle just in case things went south fast. "Gwendolyn makes your son happy."

He heard the thud at the door, and so did she since as she flickered again she turned. He turned, too, so he wouldn’t have to run through her to get to the door. It was hard to ignore the rhythm at the door. They were trying to knock down the door, and it sounded like there were cracks forming. The curtains fluttered, no longer sealed shut. He had a chance to shoot and run, and he was going to take it, edging closer and closer to the front door.

"Let him go. It's time." Keeping his voice a level, soothing tone he heard Sam use to talk to victims, he told her quietly, "She loves him and he loves her. Maybe they'll have kids – a girl and call her . . ." He didn't know her first name, and he thought his guess of Shrew may be off. "Your name. You'd like that."

Before he positioned his back towards the door, he saw Caleb and Sam leading the way with the blurred townspeople following in line, holding some sort of ramming tool. "Time's up," he called out. She was still in the doorway of the living room. She remained still, and in a blink of his eye, she seemed trapped in a narrow beam of light surrounded by dust particles showing the cylindrical shape.

He held off on firing. "Hold up! Hold up!" he yelled to the people outside. He heard Caleb relay the order.

In awe, Dean stood until there was nothing left. He took out his EMF detector, not rushing, knowing he was safe from the threat.

This was the third time in his life he had witnessed the white light of the other side. Jim would say it was proof of Heaven. He was looking for proof since there was clear evidence of Hell. There was still doubt for him. He liked to think his mother was in Heaven, had spent the better part of twenty years reassuring his brother that she was, but then he found her in their old house in Lawrence. Kansas wasn't Heaven, nor was that house filled with her death.

He turned the knob of the door, still without answers, and walked into the light to his brother and best friend.


Sam hadn't realized his shoulders were bunched up until he saw his brother exiting the house and before him. Clara was by his side, but floated away to instruct the other townspeople to give them some space.

He wanted to thank them for their help, their belief. When Caleb and he had noticed Dean was stuck in the house, it was Caleb who had announced to them, "Spirits exist, and there is a nasty one in this house. There you have it. Talk amongst yourselves while we figure this out."

Then Clara had offered their assistance. The town banded with them to help another outsider.

Caleb went forward and gripped Dean's forearm while Sam stepped closer, gawking with what he knew was a goofy look on his face. Dean reached out to him, slapping the side of his face playfully.

"Did you save me a piece of cake?"

He smirked at his brother's joke. "Sure you want to be scoffing down some cake? That's quite a gut you're working on." Sam patted his brother's stomach — it was the same as always, but when you were with the same person twenty-four-seven, you tended to pick on their base vanity.

Dean pulled away and pushed his duffle into Sam's arms. "You're just jealous 'cause I can eat everything I want and still look this good."

Caleb shook his head. "Both of you are fugly. And we need to say something to the crowd."

Sam turned and saw the expectant faces of the town.

"What did you say to get them to help?" Dean asked in a low voice.

"The truth." Sam shrugged. Where he had been so careful before never to say anything about what they did, he now was more open because they did help people. This town was proof. "He started it." Sam grinned at Caleb.

"It worked, didn't it? And they didn't seem to care. It's not like they didn't know the house was haunted," Caleb explained, gesturing to the crowd.

Dean used his finger to call over the newlyweds. "Hey, you two, come over here."

They were holding each other tight, trying to move as one. "Is it over?" Mr. Francis stuttered.

Dean nodded. "She's gone, and she says ‘congratulations’."


"Yep." Sam watched his brother, looking for any tell that he was lying. There was no change in him.

"She's gone!" Gwendolyn threw herself around her new husband's neck and soundly kissed him.

He pinked up, but turned to the crowd with pride. "Welcome to my home and please, let's enjoy the festivities!"

People in the crowd whooped, threw hats in the air, and some applauded. They followed Mr. Francis's direction and moved to the back of the house where the reception was going to take place.

"Did she really say that?" Caleb asked, mirroring what Sam had been thinking earlier.

Dean did not look directly at them. "Does it matter?"

It did to Sam, more proof of how their mother's death impacted Dean. He would always see the best in their mother, and other mothers. Sam scuffed the wood planked floor of the porch they were still standing on.

"Not for me." Caleb slapped Sam's shoulder. "Let's get something to eat. Your girlfriend said she has a table for us."

"She's not—" Sam started, but to no avail. They were already ahead of him, and Clara was by his side. She must have been waiting for him, looking for a moment to interrupt.

"Are you okay?" she asked. She was wearing a short and rather flimsy pink and blue dress. He pushed a piece of hair that fell in front of her face, tucking it behind her ear.

It was nice to have someone ask about him who wasn't truly connected to him again. "Yeah, thanks." Everyone had disappeared, and he could hear the voices of a party underway. "Do they really still feel like having a wedding reception?"

Clara smirked as she pulled him along by hand. "We don't have much excitement around here."

Sam didn't know how they had set up so quickly, but there was a big band like the ones he had only seen in old movies with fifteen pieces set up under a blue and white striped tent. There was a line at another set of long tables — the food line. He spied Dean and Caleb, plates at the ready with two attractive ladies with them.

Sam learned they were the girls they had met the other night as they sat together at a table eating. Between forkfuls of food and simple conversation, some of the townsfolk stopped by and thanked them. Clara's parents were especially enthusiastic, pounding Sam on the back. Dean held up his hand when Walter was about to attack him so as not to interrupt his meal. Clara also intervened, walking her father and mother away in conversation.

Even though the music was not what he listened to, he found his fingers tapping. Clara pulled Sam onto the area cleared on the lawn as a dance floor. They swayed to the music, Sam not being a talented dancer. He was just happy to enjoy having a girl in his arms who smelled of flowers.

"We want you to stay," she said with her head resting against his chest.

He disregarded the 'we.' "Sure, for a few more days." He had to ask Dean and Caleb. Time was working against them. They were supposed to go Pennsylvania for a meeting with the Romany. The Colt still needed to be found. But a quick glance to Dean and Caleb didn't show they were in any rush to leave either; maybe one more day, tops two, then they could get to Pennsylvania in less than a day's drive. Once they were there, the Romany could help Dean to live a long, natural life. Sam was still letting that thought and the girl in his arms warm him, so he didn't comprehend Clara.

"You don't understand." She lifted her head from his chest. "Stay here for the next twenty years."

Again a piece of her hair had fallen forward, and he grasped it, then stopped. "Huh?" He wasn't ready to rush into a commitment.

Clara placed her hand on his chest. "Because of what you did, what you all did. You can all stay here."

Sam curled his feet in his shoes, feeling the grass and earth underneath needed to ground him. "For twenty years?"

"We need to talk in private." She took his hand and led him away from the party, returning to the front of the house, which was quiet. "For a long time now, no one remembers how, but … we're a special place." She sat on the stairs, tucking her dress around her. "We appear here every twenty years for one month."

He reached out and held the banister, repeating what she said, "Every twenty years for a month?"

"In that month, we discover the newness of the world."

The Best Buy truck, the wireless internet service, even the iPod mirrored against the old toys in the window and places to eat: they weren't eccentricities of a small town. It was a reflection of times for this town. He remembered the movies they had enjoyed. "You were last here in 1988. And then before that—"

"1968. Sock it to me. It is the time I most enjoyed so far."

All the weird idiomatic expressions made sense. They each lived in a different time period, a time period they embraced. Clara's clothes and weird terms were from the ‘60s. He vaguely remembered a civics class from some junior high. "And then where do you go?" He wasn't a rocket scientist, and even if he was, he didn't think there would be an explanation of a town disappearing and reappearing at twenty year intervals.

"That's the adventure. It all seems like a dream, or maybe it feels like a minute has passed by." She reached up to the blue sky with a giggle, then brought her hand down. "You won't grow old — it'll happen very slowly."

Sam narrowed his eyes to study her. She looked his age, maybe even younger. "How old?"

Clara fluttered her long fake eyelashes. "Eighty years old."

He swallowed, slightly horrified. He had been with her, but that image was being pushed away, replaced by the light of a bulb growing brighter in his brain. "And we can all stay — my brother Dean and Caleb?"

"Yes, for what you did. This isn't our custom." Clara smiled, stood up to sidle herself next to him. "Every twenty years there is a death and a birth, but now we would grow by three."

He grabbed both her hands within his in a futile attempt to stem his excitement. "Do you ever see any demons? Not the ghosts, I mean real scary stuff, anything …?" He scrunched up his face in a poor imitation of an evil being.

She stared at him for a moment, and cocked up an eyebrow. "No, Sam."

"This could work, Clara. I mean, think about it: the date would come up, but they couldn’t find him." He knew he was rambling his thoughts. It made sense, though; this was dealing with another dimension. He didn’t necessarily get the mechanics of it, but the books in Jim's and Bobby's libraries did touch upon the topic. There were dimensions where demons didn't exist, couldn't cross over. He never thought about searching for or even having access to the possibility. "You would give us twenty years? When we came back, he'd be safe." He looked at Clara. She had given him a weird truth, and he should be the one confused, not her. "When do you need a decision?"

"By tomorrow."

"I need to talk to them. I'll be right back. . . Thank you. God, just, thank you." He grabbed her face within his hands and planted a kiss on her lips. He released her and she stumbled back. He steadied her before briskly walking to Caleb and Dean's table.

He had to ask the girls to leave, and that brought protests from Caleb, Dean, and the girls. He promised to call them back after they finished talking. It took awhile for him to explain to his brother and Caleb. He was met by disbelief until he went through the resounding evidence.

The first comment was from his brother. "What a cougar."

Sam huffed his annoyance. Clara was completely secondary, and her age was irrelevant. "Don’t you see? It's a way out of the deal."

Dean glanced at Sam then Caleb. "But Pennsylvania. . ."

Caleb shook his head, his body leaning towards Sam. "Isn't a sure thing, Deuce."

"And this is?" Dean opened his right hand, then made a fist as he lowered his voice. "She doesn't know where they disappear to for twenty years."

"It's better than Hell." Caleb's gaze was on the white tablecloth, drawing circles with his finger.

Dean looked away, shook his head. "I don't know about that. We won't see anyone for twenty years."

"That doesn’t matter."

"Mac? Bobby? They don't matter? What if they die? What if we leave them exposed?"

Sam winced. He hadn't thought that far, but Bobby and Mac would want them to save Dean. Caleb rubbed a hand down his face.

Dean must have thought he was swaying them. He pressed on. "We're supposed to be The Triad. What happens then?"

It was surprising for Caleb to answer. Caleb who, of all them, was first committed to The Brotherhood, its rule, and beliefs. "We have substitutes. Ethan and Elijah would step in."

"Who would be The Guardian?" Dean leaned forward, waited for an answer. Sam glanced at Caleb; he didn't have an answer. Dean crossed his arms, smug.

"Joshua. He's . . .capable." Sam sputtered his long shot. He had an extensive vocabulary, and couldn't believe the most convincing word he had was 'capable.'

Dean rolled his eyes. "He works with the coven, Sammy. I know he's on our side, but still, hunters won't follow him. Things are too divided as it is."

Caleb sighed. "Deuce, I'm not going to lie to you: we're running out of time and leads to get you out of this deal." It was in the background of their discussions, but never brought to the forefront. Caleb laid his palm flat on the table. "This buys us twenty years. They won't find you, and you won't die. We can just pick up where we left off when we come back. Everyone would understand."

Dean stood up. It was an unexpected reaction from his brother, leaving Sam squinting in the sun as he tried to catch his brother's gaze. But Dean looked off in the directions of the girls. "I'm not making this decision. It's up to you two. You decide." He placed a hand on his chest, tapping it. "You both think that deal was bad — and I get why everyone thinks that, I do — but saving me isn't about sacrificing you two. There’s too much of that going around these days."

"But you'll go along with it?" Sam was, of course, skeptical.

"One track mind," he replied under his breath. Dean rapped his hand on the table, making a double tapping noise. "Yep, because any decision I make, you'll second guess. I can't have that."

Sam watched his brother walk away, then looked at Caleb. The older hunter didn’t have to bother to read the connection they shared to know what his charge was thinking.

"I know, Runt, but the decisions aren't going to get easier."



"Stop worrying," Max said for at least the hundredth time since they had left Kentucky, which had JT reaching for the radio to drown him out.

The old Chevy Tahoe with Dad's converted hybrid engine took them further away from their home and closer to their adventure. Instead JT crossed his arms, taking in the landscape and reiterating the same response he had given in each time: "Your dad is going to kill us."

Max moved one hand off of the steering wheel and scratched the back of his neck. "No, he won't."

"He's a witch," James, JT's younger brother, explained from the backseat where he was laid across and enjoying the extra legroom. "He can do stuff to us."

"I'll protect you," Max said while looking in the rearview mirror.

James shook his head. "You're not a witch."

"Yes, I am," Max replied, running a hand through his longish blond hair.

"When it's convenient," JT muttered, glancing at his best friend and silently agreeing with his brother.

Max didn't reply, nervously flattening his hair out. JT noticed all his friend's ticks; the hair touching started this year since Max had started to grow it out and could barely fit it into a ponytail.

The three of them were quiet again, with just the music from the satellite radio filling the SUV. JT wished he had brought his camera up front with him instead of packing it in the bag. The scenery to some was plain, stagnant, but through a lens there were so many possibilities.

He was always thinking of the possibilities. Uncle Caleb said he was like his father — Dad was quiet sometimes when he got this sudden look about him and had to take a walk or work on the cars in the barn. Ben was more like him than James. Ben came to live with them after his mom died of cancer before he went to college. He came every summer and school break. He used the time to train as a hunter, although it was becoming harder with med school.

JT thought his brother James was more like their father. He was always making some joke or another. He supposed they were both right.

"We're almost there," Max announced with a grin. James peeked his head to the front seat. "Uncle Caleb told me all about this place." Max was a few years older, but far from mature.

"Dad told me about it, too," James said, slapping the headrest. "This is going to be so cool!"

"Uncle Sam says it's private," JT added, trying to rein in his brother. "Maybe something bad happened here?" JT liked to get different perspectives, and Uncle Sam hadn't wanted to share. Dad and Uncle Caleb told outlandish stories.

"JT, why did you come along then?" Max glared at him. "Face it — you're curious."

JT shifted under the scrutiny. There were hunts his father didn't talk about, but this was not one of them. Dad had made it sound fun. "Yeah, but it still doesn’t make it a good idea. Every time you get curious, I have to bail you out of trouble."

"Grandpa is always encouraging curiosity," James said, moving to the driver's side of the car.

"Suck up." JT rolled his eyes at his brother. Truth be told, James needed to be watched over, too.

"They think we're on a camping trip." Max reiterated the excuse they had all used. Max was a recent driver, and there wouldn't be many opportunities once Max went to college to get away. His mother never suspected ulterior motives, and his father was away on business. "No one will ever know." Max put his hand up, and James slapped his hand against it.

"Famous. Last. Words." Dad always told him he knew what they were up to before they even planned it, and it had nothing to do with Uncle Caleb being a psychic. He wouldn’t be at ease until they were back in Kentucky.

"Whatever. Look." Max gestured with is chin. They were coming up on the town limits.

JT had lived in a small town his entire life, and when traveling with his baseball team he noticed other towns similar to his. This was different. Usually there was one old building, but this town was filled with old brick buildings. He was itching to get a hold of his camera.

"Look! It's Transformers—the first one, and Dark Knight with the original guy." James bounced in the backseat with excitement.

"You've seen them both a hundred times," JT stated, waiting for the Chevy to come to a stop so he could get his camera bag from the trunk.

"They're classics," Max agreed with James while parallel parking the car. "Come on, for old times sake, and then we'll get something to eat."

If they were in the movies, then they wouldn’t be out finding trouble. He nodded. "Fine."

He still got his camera, wondering what the inside of the theatre looked like.

"Hiya!" a kid about James's age said as he rode on by on a wide skateboard with an oversized iPod.

James's mouth dropped open. "Did you see that? Dad said that this place had old stuff, antiques."

JT looped an arm around his brother's shoulders. "Would have been cool for them to come, see some of the old stuff."

Max snorted as he led the way into the movie theatre. "No way would they have agreed to this. They don't let us have any fun."

They came out of the double feature laughing and throwing popcorn at each other.

"Maxim Sawyer, Jonathan Thomas Winchester, and James Murphy Winchester!"

JT was still blinking in the bright sunlight, but came to full attention at the booming voice. Max and James flanked him, also just as still at their uncle's voice.

"Boys." Dad walked past them, inspecting them with a hard look and a grim frown. The Impala was parked across the street.

"Your father isn’t going to be happy, Max," Uncle Caleb said, stopping in front of the older boy.

"Are you three all right?" Uncle Sam asked them, also giving them a once over with his eyes.

"Yes, Sir," James answered for all three of them.

JT found Ben was staring at him, then smirked. "Whoa, little brother, this is even better than the time you let Max talk you into sneaking out to meet the Mathews twins."

The middle brother groaned, not needing his father to be reminded of the fiasco with Elijah Mathews's daughters last year. His father cleared his throat, giving Ben a pointed look.

"Right." Ben stepped back, dropping his stupid grin. "I'm not here to comment, only to stand by in case there's bloodshed and someone needs a doctor." He chanced another glance at JT, winking this time. "Mainly you, Jimmy, and Max."

"It's James," his younger brother snapped.

Dad pointed at Ben. "Go warm up the Impala."

"Yes, Sir." Ben gave him a sympathetic wave as he turned to walk back to the Impala.

"It's not like he's never done anything wrong," James muttered under his breath, and JT stepped on his foot to get him to shut up.

Max cleared his throat, garnering all the attention once more. "How did you . . .Sir?" He directed it to The Guardian.

"Mary sold you up the river for ten bucks," Dad stated.

Uncle Caleb smiled. "Just like her dad back in the day."

Uncle Sam snorted and crossed his arms. "It wasn't even close to ten back then."

"Who told her?" Max asked, but he knew as well as JT who the culprit was. They both looked down at James.

James fidgeted. "What? She wanted to come." He kicked the pavement. "Are you going to punish us?" he said to their father in the soft voice that he usually used to get his way.

Uncle Caleb stood in front of their father as if to block James from his persuasive abilities. "Ten miles with packs — to start."

His father stepped around Uncle Caleb. "You're lucky. Your grandfather would have made it twenty."

"That's it?" Max asked. JT slapped his forehead; sometimes Max didn't think before he spoke.

"No, I'm just getting warmed up," Dad answered, rubbing his chin. JT wondered what plans his father was making for them. His mother was going to have them on lockdown, and Max's parents, regardless that Max was the oldest among them, would still dole out some punishment, too.

"At the rate you're going, you'll be lucky if you get a ring before you get a pension," Uncle Caleb commented, clenching the hand where he wore the Knight's band of silver.

JT was crestfallen. All his life he wanted to be a member of The Brotherhood. Grandpa Mac said that they had to go to college, too, be fully rounded and productive members of society. Max wanted to go to school on the west coast and learn about surfing. JT liked photography and math and was good at baseball. He just didn't know how all of that would work together.

Max slouched and then stood up straighter. "Can we not tell my dad? Sir?"

Dad shook his head. "Hell, no."

"But you're The Guardian."

"Right, and we already corrupt you enough, according to Josh." JT knew his father enjoyed irritating Joshua through Max, but Uncle Caleb, Sam, and even his father treated Max like they treated Ben, James, and himself.

"Just as I had him convinced to send you for sword lessons with Micah, too." Uncle Caleb shook his head.

Micah, Silas's son and Jessup's final and best student, had taken over the sword training on the houseboat in Florida, along with the recipe for alligator stew. Max hadn't stopped talking, messaging, and emailing about it. Max's shoulders slumped and remained that way. "But please, Uncle Caleb. . ."

"It was a dangerous thing you three did. None of you have any business going on a hunt alone. It’s not a game," Uncle Sam added.

Max stepped forward from the lineup they had been frozen in. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. My idea."

JT rushed forward as did James. They couldn’t let Max take the blame, but their dad lifted his hand to stop them, then pointed at them. "And these two edjits didn't use their own minds. That's worse."

"Not the brightest move," Uncle Sam said with a nod and smile. "But we all make mistakes."

"Sorry, Sir." JT felt he would never live up to his father's expectations and maybe didn't deserve a ring. It was hard having The Guardian for a dad, The Scholar as an uncle, and The Knight as a godfather.

"You two get in the Impala. Max, you get into the Tahoe and wait for Caleb," Dad ordered, and they broke formation to comply.

James and JT walked quickly to the car. Ben slipped out of the front seat and opened the back door for them. "Not a single drop of blood. . .yet," Ben cackled. JT hit him in his stomach as he got in.

Dad led the way back to the car, but Uncle Caleb called out to Ben. "Hey, Ace, you're coming with me. No way I'm dealing with a moping, moody teenager for hours."

Ben put his arms out, the ends of his untucked shirt flapped a bit with the light passing breeze. "So what am I, the entertainment?"

"Hell, yeah." Uncle Caleb pointed to the Tahoe parked across the street. "I'll be there in a minute. Keep an eye on him."

"I gotta deal with moody, mid-life crisis guy." Ben looked at their dad with a smirk when he said it.

JT saw his father wink at his eldest son.

Uncle Caleb reached out and pulled on Ben's shirt. Ben was the same height as Uncle Caleb, but ran leaner. "A few years ago I was the guy who took you to the Red Caboose. Show some respect."

"Damien. . ." Dad started with a frown towards Uncle Caleb.

Uncle Sam put an arm in between them. "Ben, you better go and check on Max." Ben followed Uncle Sam's directions and went off towards the Tahoe. Uncle Sam let his arm drop. "Like you didn't expect that."

"That wasn't part of John Winchester's training book," Dad growled at Uncle Caleb.

"Babysitting wasn't covered either, and I am damn good at that." Uncle Caleb put a finger on Dad's chest. "You're just jealous because we didn't include you. There's a price to pay for monogamy."

"I still get the better end of the deal, Damien. And he's my kid, so I'm sure I passed along some good genes." Dad leaned against the car and covered JT's face with his hand. Both he and James had their heads out the window. They brought them back inside.

"And don't forget you reap the rewards of your babysitting," Uncle Sam added, raising his eyebrows. "Mary comes home with a lot of stories."

Uncle Caleb took them to a lot of places, but he had told them they had aged out of the cuteness factor a while ago. It was better to take the girls — their cousin Mary and Jocelyn (or Josie), Max's younger sister — with him if he wanted to meet women. Joshua said it was because he didn't want the competition since the girls Caleb dated were barely legal. "I pay them well. A trip with Mary Mayhem and the Outlaw Josey Wales to American Girl is embarrassing."

James huffed in the seat beside him and screwed up his face. "Those dolls are creepy."

Their father and uncles must have heard them since they started laughing. Uncle Caleb reached out and patted Dad's stomach. "Why don’t you all take a breather and head to the diner so I can go and find our old friends?"

Dad shook his head. "You're twenty years older. She may kill you."

"I'm willing to take that risk." Uncle Caleb elbowed Uncle Sam. "How about you, Sam? Want to go look up Clara?"

"Yeah, Sam, we can leave you — you're a free man after all — give you some time on your own. Juliet and I can watch Mary for you. She's not a troublemaker like my two." Dad knocked on the Impala's frame, and JT and James involuntarily jumped.

Uncle Sam lived in Kentucky, too. He was a law professor at the local college. He had worked as a criminal defense lawyer before deciding he liked to teach better. It was also easier to incorporate being a professor with his other life of being The Scholar. "No, that time is over."

They were silent for a while. Dad pulled out his phone from his back pocket.

"You calling the wife, Deuce?"

Dad opened the phone where JT could see the picture of his mom on the screen. "We are not husband and wife. We don't need a piece of paper."

James leaned forward so his voice would carry out the window. "Dad says you don’t need a license to say you love someone and want to be with them."

Dad gave an agreeing nod. "That's why you need offspring, Damien. They always gotchyer back."

"You just called them edjits ten seconds ago." Uncle Caleb stuck his tongue out at them, which was totally weird to see since he was old and had some silver hair blending in with his dark hair. JT ignored him, but his brother didn't and stuck out his tongue, too.

"Still, gotta tell Juliet that we found them and we're bringing them home." Dad walked away to talk to Mom in private.

James scooted closer to hear the conversation, and his brother would probably report back to their father later if the information could be used to blackmail either Uncle Sam or Caleb.

Uncle Caleb pushed away from the car. "I hope she doesn't have a couple of her friends waiting to ambush us."

"We're her pet projects." Uncle Sam chuckled. "Dean says she's not worried about JT and James ever leaving, but if we ever grow up, get lives, and move away she'll be crushed."

"So you don't want to settle down. . ."

"Been there, done that." Uncle Sam had been married to Aunt Lidia. She lived in Germany, helping the European Brotherhood. They divorced when Mary was a baby. Mary lived with Uncle Sam and went to visit her mom a couple of times a year during school breaks. "Do you think we did the right thing back then?" Uncle Sam was no longer leaning on the car either; his arms were crossed.

Uncle Caleb ran a hand over his mouth. “Hell, Sammy, I don’t know. In some ways, that seems like a life time ago." He made eye contact with JT. "I think what matters most is that we’re all still together."

Dad came back, the phone out of sight. "Gotta get on the road. She said she'll have chicken and dumplings waiting for us."

"Pastor Jim's recipe?" Uncle Caleb asked as he started for the Tahoe where Ben and Max were waiting for him.

"Of course." Dad got into the driver's seat and Uncle Sam on the passenger side. Their Dad usually had some sort of music playing in the background, but this time there was nothing except the two brothers talking.

"There she is, Sammy. Are you sure?" Dad said while JT followed his line of sight. There was a girl, maybe Ben's age with blonde long hair wearing a dress with flowers on it. She waved to them.

"I'm sure, but thanks."

JT still had his camera in hand, and with the window down he had an unobstructed view. He pressed the button on his camera and felt the silent buzz of multiple photographs being taken. She was important to Uncle Sam, and maybe later he would want to have a picture of her to mark his time there.



Uploaded by Majs