Second Chances

By Tidia, December 2008

Beta: That Girl Six

Disclaimer: Ridley is all about The Brotherhood and Kripke is all about Supernatural. I do not profit from either.

Words: 7.504


Caleb was in the kitchen reading the day-old newspaper Bobby had brought with him from South Dakota. Dean was refilling the coffeemaker, padding around in his jeans, t-shirt, and a pair of socks. Home was where you could take your boots off, after all. Caleb was grateful for the normalcy — and for Dean curtailing the drinking for caffeine.

"Damn, you've gone domestic."

"Feet off the chair. You and Sammy are trashing my house. The only person I'm going to invite back is Mac." Sam was with Mac in the Hunter's Tomb. Caleb assumed it was another Scholar to Scholar-elect discussion, but it also could have been another research session into angels and the apocalypse. Caleb, on the other hand, wanted to enjoy the holidays and just be happy Dean was among the living once again. They needed a break from the war of good versus evil, from graying lines.

"That's only because Dad made sure the kitchen was stocked." Caleb smirked.

Dean frowned but was interrupted by Jocelyn as she came into the kitchen. "Bingo night is better than this. At least the bourbon is flowing." She swept in, in all her bright pink velour pant suit and gold patterned shirt glory, batting some fisted green herbs against her leg. The frost had already hit the remnants of Pastor Jim's garden. Caleb didn't know where the elderly woman had found them.

"You'd rather be playing Bingo?" Dean asked, pulling out a chair for Jocelyn.

She sniffed the bundle of green before setting it on the table. "I'd rather we got this show on the road. You would think those two would be too old for game-playing." Dean had invited Jocelyn to the farm, and she had said that she could not refuse an invitation from The Guardian-elect since this would more than likely be the last Guardian she would know.

Caleb snorted. The game was to get his father and Esme back together. Mac was here regardless, but Esme had required more work. They took away her options, especially with Jocelyn at the farm. Joshua was assigned to bring his mother, but he had said that she was thinking about spending it with some members of the coven.

Caleb liked Jocelyn's lack of reserve and wondered if that came with age since Esme was her opposite, unless she took after her father. "Were you one of those girls?" He raised his eyebrows.

She gave a dry laugh. "Knights don't like those types of girls. They like them a little more forthright."

He had to agree. There was nothing more attractive than a woman who knew what she wanted for one night without a commitment. There weren't enough of them.

"This Knight isn't that choosy," Dean replied.

Jocelyn reached out and patted Caleb's hand. "I think I'm too old to be — what do they call them — a cougar?"

Caleb raised her hand to his lips. "I think I'm too old for you to teach me any new tricks, but I'll try if you will."

Jocelyn pulled her hand away with a laugh. "All these compliments so close to lunch time. You're lucky that I defrosted a pork roast. Now, find something else to do while I get lunch ready."

Dean, still in stockinged feet, headed out the door to the porch. Caleb followed even though he was uninvited. It was Dean who had plotted Christmas at the farm for Mac and Esme. Caleb and Sam believed Dean wanted to be too busy to think about Hell. Caleb and Sam respected it, knowing they could never fully understand what he went through. Words could only invoke images. He could tell them about the Alps in Switzerland and even compare them to something else, but he could never invoke the majesty unless he took them there. None of them were going to Hell.

Dean was looking out into the distance, his gaze shifting over the farm, the driveway, narrowing his eyes to see farther. Caleb did the same but was unable to find what Dean was seeking.

"What are you looking for out here?"

"Ruby, Castiel, Uriel . . ." Dean sighed and placed his hand on the railing, stretching. "I know it's impossible for a demon to enter the farm, but this being Jim's house, I am sure he left an opening for the possibility of angels."

"You're worried about Sam and Ruby.” Caleb rubbed the back of his neck. “I don't know how I didn't see it. I gave him a little space, sure, but I didn’t think I had given him that much space. He told me he was fine. I thought we were on the same page." They had been together for four months, and they needed breaks away. He had figured Sam was doing the same things he was doing to cope: going for a drink, taking a walk, or finding some comfort in a woman. Caleb had never suspected Ruby or that she had been tutoring him.

"I'm not blaming you. Sam can be a sneaky bastard, and he's convinced she's on our side, even after an angel tells him he's going down a dark path." Dean fisted his hand and lightly punched the porch column. "How can forcing exorcisms with the Hand of Ipecac be good?"

Dean had told Caleb about the angels and how they wanted Sam to stop using his abilities. Caleb didn't want to have any more secrets. Sam finally told all of his, but it was a little too late as Dean had been led to the secrets through the angels.

As for the exorcisms, Caleb had tried to dissuade Sam, too; at first he wanted to do so with his fists after discovering he had been duped by the youngest Winchester. Sam had persisted in his stubbornness, and Caleb suggested he bring the matter up with The Scholar. Caleb was proud of his nonviolent suggestion. The power Sam was using was different from Caleb's, more like the amulet, which they had agreed was bad.

Then there was the fact Ruby had tried to kill Joshua, and Caleb couldn't really be forgiving. Sam had found a heap of trouble, but it wasn't trouble to Sam. But at the same time, after a lifetime of the authority figures in Sam’s life telling him that he shouldn’t be afraid of his abilities, Caleb couldn’t exactly blame him for finally hearing them. "He's trying to help."

"I know, and he promised he'd stop, but then he did it anyway." Dean leaned against the railing. He wasn't focused on Caleb but looking up instead. "And then he tells me Ruby saved him. If that's true then I owe her, like I owe you. . ."

Caleb gripped Dean's shoulder firmly, mostly in anger at his friend's belief that watching over Sam — over either of them — needed repayment. "You don't owe me, and you don't owe her either. So you don't kill her, but that doesn't mean you have to invite her for dinner."

Dean looked around the front porch. His face was easy to read: this was a sanctuary for all of them. No demon could ever be allowed, no matter what the connection. "That's not going to happen." Dean shrugged his shoulder, and Caleb let his arm drop. "I told Sam that he needs to tell Josh that she's still around."

Caleb grimaced. Ruby was on the coven's hit list, even more so after Joshua's near death experience. A simple apology wouldn't be sufficient. "That's severe punishment coming from you. You picking up smiting from your angel friends?" Caleb was surprised Dean had placed his brother in the situation. In the past Dean would not allow his brother to be sullied.

Dean shook his head. "More like ‘you do the crime, you do the time’. I hope he has the good sense to wait until after we get Esme and Mac back together."

"Christmas miracles happen all the time, right? Maybe he's hoping for a distraction. Castiel could show up and wish you a merry Christmas." Caleb hadn't met him, and he was slightly jealous that Sam was interacting with the angels. More importantly, he wanted to say thank you for raising Dean from Hell. Caleb was also trying not to jump to assumptions. If the angels wanted Sam to stop, then what did that say about him? He had been using his abilities for twenty years, which could be the real reason why the angels hadn't appeared to him. He was too far gone.

Dean diverted his attention to what Caleb now could see was a spider web taking up residency near the door. "After our last meeting, I think he's just not that into me." Dean grinned.

Caleb didn't – they had been lucky they hadn't been killed in the crossfire of a murky situation.

"Plus we need a week to celebrate the big guy's birthday."

They hadn't taken any breaks since Dean got back. There had been too much work and not enough hunters, and Tri Corp had asked for his expertise on a project. It was good to dabble with the company he had created once again. This was the first time at the ranch since Dean's return, and they all seemed to be making the most of the camaraderie.

"Are we going to church services?" Caleb asked in confusion, wondering about Dean's sudden conversion to Christianity.

Dean patted Caleb's stomach. "Your birthday, you idiot. Every year you make this big deal about being screwed over since it is so close to Christmas, then you hate celebrating it on New Year’s. . ."

Caleb shrugged. He had another plan in the works, which was why he hadn't started his annual complaint about his birthday. "I thought we could celebrate together for your big 3-0 at the Mansion." Promises needed to be kept, especially this one which had almost been impossible.

Dean's mouth dropped open. "Seriously? The Playboy Mansion?" Dean's grin grew wide. "I hear Hef's got twins now, twins, man. . ." Sam came out to join them, the door clattering behind him. "Damien is getting us into the Mansion to party with the Bunnies."

"They're not going to be filming the Girls Next Door, are they?"

Caleb shook his head. He had been witness to Sam's addiction to the E! Channel. He tapped Sam on his head. "You finally left The Tomb? That shining orb is the sun..."

Sam swatted the hand away. "Mac said I should find you and see what you two were up to. We got worried when we smelled something good coming from the kitchen."

Jocelyn hadn't been there long, but it was nice to have someone caring about their wellbeing, providing the woman's touch they all lacked.

"What are you two doing in there?" Caleb hooked his foot on the bottom of the railing.

Sam stretched, touching the top of the porch. "Angel research."

Caleb rolled his eyes. Once Dean had told him about the angels, he opened the drawer in the bedroom bureau and pulled out the Bible. Jim had placed one in every room. "What's there to know? Angels are good, demons are bad."

"It isn’t so simple," Sam huffed, crossing his arms. "They're soldiers, Caleb."

Caleb didn't like the condescending tone. "And they take their orders from God — don't you think He's got the bigger picture in mind?"

Sam grinned. "Pastor Jim would be so proud of you. He thought you never paid attention to his sermons, or what did you call it — 'being held hostage to the pulpit'?"

"Yeah, well, some you remember; not the fire and brimstone sermons, but the other ones." Caleb leaned against the railing.

"The ones about forgiveness." Sam glanced to where his brother had taken a seat on the porch swing.

"But some things are unforgivable." Dean's head fell back causing movement in the swing.

Dean had called Caleb early one morning and asked not to be interrupted as he shared what had been weighing his soul. "You were in Hell, and that right there is an excuse. If you didn't feel something, then I'd be worried." Caleb narrowed the gap between them, taking a few steps forward. "It's okay to feel guilty, Deuce."

He looked at Sam who nodded for him to continue. "Jim would be proud of you. He was in a war, after all. He knew what it was like to kill, what it's like to lose yourself for a while." Caleb recalled his dark moments, his obsession over getting his mother's paintings back. "He went through it all and was a better man for it."

Dean grieved for the suffering he had caused. A lesser man, a prideful man would have accepted what he'd done. Dean was humbled and broken. He didn't answer, only pushed the swing so all that could be heard was the squeaking of the chains with the movement.

Caleb looked at Sam; they were both at a loss of what to say to help. Although it seemed surreal to pause for Christmas with angels, Revelation, and Lucifer, it also seemed to be the best time to fix things that were broken. Caleb glanced through the window to the decorated tree in the living room. "So I guess that means no angel on the tree?"

"A star. Stars are good," Dean replied, stopping the swing with a firm foot on the ground.

Sam put a hand out to his brother to have him stand up. Dean accepted and came to his feet. They were being drawn inside by the aroma of a home cooked meal. Caleb stopped them from entering as he saw a car coming up the drive in the distance. It was a dark, unfamiliar sedan. They went down the porch steps, meeting the car before allowing the visitor any further.

"I wonder if the Mercedes is in the shop?" Dean commented when there was recognition that it was Joshua Sawyer.

Joshua parked the car, went to the trunk, and pulled out two shopping bags. He would probably upstage them all with his thoughtfulness. Caleb narrowed his eyes on the bags; tonight he would do a little reconnaissance. However, there was a more pressing matter. "Where's your mom?"

"She'll be here for dinner." Joshua rested the bags on the porch. "We needed to come separately. I have to leave tomorrow morning."

"How did you get her to agree to come here?" Sam asked.

Joshua looked down, not meeting Caleb's eyes. "I said I was going to make an announcement."

Even though Joshua was being shifty, Caleb decided not to try to read his mind. He would wait for the surprise, but he made a joking guess. "You're coming out of the closet?"

Joshua ignored him. "Have you spoken to Mackland?"

"I gave him all my best pointers."

Since Dean's return Caleb had tried to spend more time in New York. He felt responsible for the break up after Mackland had admitted he had nipped the bud on the start of their previous relationship because of him. Mac hadn’t needed much encouragement to go through the usual rotation of flowers, chocolates, and gifts to woo Esme back. Joshua had helped, feeding inside information and also talking to Mac during his convalescence.

"This is going to fail." Joshua placed a hand over his eyes and shook his head.

"Maybe I should talk to him," Dean volunteered. "I could order them as The Guardian-elect."

Caleb snorted. Dean pulled out the Guardian card on the least likely matters. However, he didn't expect to be insulted by Joshua.

"Please, between the two of you I don't know who is the least qualified for relationship advice."

"Hey, better watch out, Mama's Boy; Bobby says he's going to throw his hat in the ring with Esme. Mackland isn't the only horse in this race."

"What about Ellen? Or Pam? And that time at Hedonism?" Sam asked his brother. They spent more time with the junkyard owner than Caleb. There previously had been Fiona, but other than her Bobby didn't tell them many conquest stories.

"Bobby is a player?"

"Hate the game, not the player, boys," Bobby said from outside the railing of the porch near the back of the swing. Dean had set up a trailer near the barn since the house was already filled with guests. Bobby was staying there, which was more comfortable than the couch.

"You stay away from my mother," Joshua threatened, blocking the entrance to the porch steps.

"You once said that I was good on paper."

"I compared you to a man with no home and two children." Without taking his eyes off the salvage man, Joshua said over his shoulder to Dean, "No offense."

Dean shrugged. "None taken."

Bobby put his finger on Joshua's chest. "Maybe your mother doesn’t want money, homes all over the world, being with a doctor. . ." Bobby pulled his finger back. "Damn, maybe I should take up with Mac. Better yet, maybe he'll adopt more kids." Bobby smiled at Caleb. "How would you like an older brother, or are you afraid of the competition?"

The Winchester brothers laughed. "He does have quite the list of ladies, Damien," Dean added.

"Pff, dream on, Singer." It was preposterous to think that Bobby was getting more action than him.

"Fine, I'll go talk to Josie." Bobby walked past them into the house.

"'Josie'?" Joshua raised his brows. "Is he talking about my grandmother?"

No one answered him, which was just as well because, knowing Josh, he would give a speech about respecting his grandmother because she was a senior citizen. He tried to think of what she had been like, what the other Triad had been like before things had gone horribly wrong for them. The journals only painted part of a picture.

"Why don't you guys hook up Jocelyn and Cullen?" Sam suggested, interrupting Caleb's musings.

Caleb looked at Joshua. They had come to terms about their parents, but grandparents were sacred. They couldn't share them.

Dean patted his brother's stomach. "Sammy here is quite the romantic lately. He'll have to tell you all about it."

Sam stepped back. Caleb caught his eyes. He wanted to let Sam know that he knew he was responsible for telling Joshua the truth.

Joshua didn't sense the awkwardness. It was better that he was ignorant, and Caleb wished it would be for a while. "Speaking of romance, Drew sends his regards and suggested this as a Christmas gift." He went into the inside pocket of his wool jacket and passed an envelope to Caleb.

Caleb opened the envelope to see plane tickets to Honolulu. "I am not going to Hawaii with Drew." Caleb stuffed the tickets back in and passed it to Joshua. He had finally given in and had lunch with Josh's admin; it had been the most uncomfortable experience he had ever had, which was saying a lot since he dealt with the supernatural on a regular basis. "He put his hand on my thigh and was reaching towards No Man's Land. He may look meek, but the guy's got a grip."

Both Sam and Dean were doubled over. He had told them about his meeting with Drew only after Joshua had called them to report on him. He had had to correct Drew's account, which painted him in a totally different light. Drew had a vivid imagination.

"Hawaii is for Mackland and my mother," Joshua stated, pulling out the tickets once more and showing the itinerary to Caleb.

Caleb quickly scanned the ten day vacation set for January. "Double beds?" He didn't want to know about Mac and Esme's love life. He liked to remain in the dark, as did Josh.

"Of course." Joshua tucked the envelope back into his jacket. "I'll bill you."

"I just spent a few hours with Mac in The Tomb, and you might have built this up a little too much," Sam interrupted. "Mac is really nervous."

Dean elbowed his brother. "Wow, Samantha, you are quite the Debbie Downer today."

Joshua shook his head and began to raise his voice in annoyance. "They are nonrefundable tickets, and you said that he was willing to do anything to make this work. . ."

"He has! You said that your mother was still interested, but this hard-to-get routine is not cool. . ." This had been going on for six months, and for four of those Caleb hadn't been putting much attention to his father and Esme because he had been lost in his own despair. But now he was doing everything possible to help the situation.

Joshua stepped back. "'Hard-to-get’? What does that mean?" Caleb winced. He realized the other hunter had been dealing with this for a lot longer because he had been convalescing from his injuries. He had been the go-between for Esme and Mac to keep communicating. He also had seen his mother unhappy with Harland and did not want a repeat performance. "She deserves the best, and if your father. . ."

Jocelyn knocked on the door before she came out to join them. "How about we let nature take its course, boys?" She reached out and grabbed Joshua's hand and Caleb's and squeezed. "I am proud of you boys. You did what you needed to do: get them in a room together. When that happens there will either be sparks or we will have a very uncomfortable holiday, and Dean will be serving copious amounts of James's liquor."

"Grandmother," Joshua said, coming forward and giving Jocelyn a hug then a kiss on each cheek. She dropped Caleb's hand.

Jocelyn held Joshua out to appraise him. "How's Carolyn?"

"She sends her best."

"Lunch is ready, and you need fattening up. If you ask me, the rest of you look like you need a good home cooked meal."

"Can you stay here forever?" The words slipped out of Caleb's mouth. It made him miss his own grandmother.

"I've already done this before, waiting for Maxim to come home, hearing the stories of the latest hunt." She placed her hands over her heart. "I can't live forever, and one day you'll see the future and think it was all worth it. All the pain, fear, loss . . ." She placed her hand first against Sam's cheek, then Caleb’s, then Dean’s. "You'll understand."

Joshua offered his arm to his grandmother and escorted her inside with Sam following behind.

Caleb placed his hand on Dean's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Deuce. . ." Caleb searched for the words he'd lost when they had been interrupted. He wanted to tell Dean how proud he was of the man Dean had become, but Dean would not accept those words. Not now.

Dean sighed, stepping into the house. Caleb gave one more glance to the front porch and beyond, then followed his friend.

*The Brotherhood* Supernatural*

Dean kept himself busy after lunch. There was maintenance to be done on the cars and on the house itself. He put Sam and Caleb to work on the house while Bobby helped him with the cars. Everyone was getting an oil change.

Mac was dealing with Brotherhood business and had asked Sam to help him. Sam was happy to stop the manual labor and scooted back inside the house. Joshua excused himself to spend time with his grandmother. Dean's only concern was keeping himself busy.

If he was busy then he didn't think. Thinking was bad. It led to him recalling the relished, blessed relief of feeling his body whole before he had to take on another torturous role. His original torture had been designed to break him; he wondered what his father's Hell had been. Had he broken? He had been there six months, sixty years according to the time spent below. Yet when given the opportunity he had saved his sons. He hadn't sacrificed his humanity, and according to Ruby that took centuries.

He felt more than human. He felt as if all his nerve endings were exposed to all the bad in the world. He had created hurt and had to stop the hurt. This was what he wanted his brother to understand so he wouldn't do harm to anyone, and then have to spend his whole life trying to redeem himself. Dean realized he had been hard on Sam, putting pressure on him to tell Joshua the truth. He didn't want his brother even flirting with the understanding Dean now had, with the feeling of never being able to get himself back.

The sound of what was probably a compact car coming down the drive broke into his thoughts. “Showtime!” he yelled.

He wiped his hands on his pants as he slid out from under Caleb's Lamborghini, which didn't need any work; he’d just wanted to admire it. Caleb scurried down the ladder where he had been cleaning the gutters. The blue car slowed, and Dean wondered if Esme was having doubts. By coming she was saying that she was willing to give the relationship with Mac another try. They were all getting another chance. When Esme had dumped Mac, she had also said goodbye to The Brotherhood.

Dean could understand her blaming The Triad-led group. Hunting had taken a lot from her. He had seen the hostility in Sam, too, which was the reason why he wanted him to wear a ring, accept his position. It would also keep him somewhat safe.

The blue Volvo stopped, and Esme stepped out with her trademark scarf tied around her neck. Dean walked over from his direction as Caleb was meeting him at the car, too.

"Hello, Dean; hello, Caleb. Merry Christmas." Esme came to them, giving them each a hug. She clicked a button on her key fob to open the trunk. It was filled.

"It looks like you could use some help." There were a few bags from a place called Belle Kuisine, and from the smell Dean's stomach knew it would be good.

She pulled out the white bags. "I thought we could have some traditional Virginia foods for Christmas Eve. I hope I'm not overstepping any plans you've made."

Dean took the food from her hands, leaving Caleb with a bag of presents and an overnight bag to carry in. "No, no, we were thinking sandwiches or hoping your mom would cook for us again."

"She's been spoiling you?" Esme looked at the house.

"We're enjoying her attentions," Caleb answered. "Josh is spending time with her now."

"Thank you for inviting us." She grabbed her purse and a flowered tote bag. "Is everyone here?"

Dean glanced at Caleb. Esme wanted to know if Mac had arrived, which also meant she was nervous.

"Everyone important," Bobby interrupted, coming from the rear of the house to join them. He gave Esme a strong hug to make her laugh.

Dean had to step between Caleb and Bobby as the junkyard owner rolled his eyes and pursed his lips behind the lady's back.

Caleb gave Bobby a nod. "We're lucky to have Bobby here. He got lots of invites—Ellen, Pam, Missouri. . . anyone else?"

"You're quite popular, Robert. I think women know a fine gentleman when they see one."

Bobby offered Esme the crook of his elbow, which she accepted. "I keep telling these boys the same thing. They're never going to attract a fine woman like yourself with their manners."

Dean heard Caleb's throaty growl. He pulled on his friend's shirt, giving Esme and Bobby some distance. "I am so covering his toilet with Saran Wrap tonight and putting coal in his stocking," Caleb said as Dean released him with a chuckle.

"You're going to get into a prank war with Bobby?" It was never a good idea to mess with the older hunter. It was a fact that he knew more than they did when it came to hunting and hunters. He hoped Caleb would rethink the idea, especially under his roof where he could be caught in the crossfire.

For propriety’s sake Esme, and Jocelyn were sharing a room as much as he wanted to place Mac and Esme in the same room. They extricated Bobby from the house before they removed themselves. About five minutes later Sam came out, catching them staring at the house as Caleb was trying to get a read on what was happening inside.

"I am giving them time alone, and so far it looks good. They were talking about food. Mac loves caviar, and Esme brought some."

"Best way to a man's heart, especially on a potato chip," Caleb commented. "Dad's blocking me out, and I don't want to try anything with Esme."

"Guess I'll help you with those gutters." Sam grimaced.

"Sure, after I did most of the work," Caleb said.

Dean shook his head at his brother and friend, then gestured to the barn. "I'm going to clean up my stuff."

This had been the difficult part about spending the holiday together: there was no time for him to be on his own. They were all keeping an eye out for him with Mac going through a post-traumatic syndrome checklist and suggesting Prozac. Spending time with the cars and in the barn had given him some privacy.

"Hello, Dean."

Dean looked up from kneeling by the toolbox to see Castiel walking forward in the same unstained trench coat. The animals inside quieted, their attention riveted on the angel. Dean laughed at their surroundings. "Isn't this a bit cheesy? Christmas Eve, in a barn."

Castiel gave him the confused, innocent stare, but Dean wasn't going to explain further about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a barn. "Okay, whatever. Where's Uriel?" Dean wanted to make sure the other angel wasn't present near his friends and family.

"Not here."

Dean nodded, completed picking up the tools and closed the box. Castiel was still standing, staring. This had been their first meeting after the showdown. He now had had time to think and wanted some answers. "Is what Anna told me about angels true?"

"I don't know what she told you," Castiel stated, coming closer, not recognizing the need for personal space.

"Only four angels have ever seen God," Dean explained further. He wanted to believe in angels, angels who could fight demons and win. But if angels didn't want to be angels, wasn't the battle already lost?

"I can only tell you that Anna decided to fall. She didn't have faith." Castiel bent down and picked up some random hay that was on the floor of the barn.

"Can't blame her after that stunt you pulled." The threats towards him, the threats towards Anna hadn't seemed like the god Jim had told them all about.

"Unfortunate circumstances were created." Castiel rubbed the hay between his fingers. "I cannot explain, Dean. I ask that you have faith in me."

He liked Castiel, probably residue because Castiel had pulled him from Hell. He figured he owed him. "It's not you I'm worried about. It's who gives you your marching orders, Cas."

"God is not a tyrant." Castiel let the hay trickle from his fingers, and it seemed to float in the air before landing. "I trust in my father. James Murphy did, too."

Dean knew Jim, too, and his Jim would be having a hard time explaining these angels and their God. "I don't know how much faith he'd have if he knew his peeps were threatening to throw me back to Hell."

"You have free will. There is a job you are being asked to perform —"

"The threats are to make sure I do it." Dean sighed. That sounded like part-Jim and part-his father. He understood loud and clear. He had done the same with Griffin, given him no choice but to do the right thing and help The Brotherhood.

"You need to heal your relationship with God."

He didn't have a relationship with God; he was only sure just recently that there was one. Dean heard a scuffling of shoes by the barn door and turned to see Caleb entering. He smiled and turned back to see that Castiel had disappeared. "You just missed him."

Caleb's eyes searched the barn as he walked quickly to where Dean was standing. "He left because I came in?" He looked at the spot in front of Dean.

Dean shrugged. He was accustomed to Castiel's appearing and disappearing acts, prepared for them enough to save up his questions. "Guess so. Don't take it personally."

"Deuce, these are the same guys who told your brother not to use his powers. You ever figure I'm on their shit list, too?" Caleb threw the bucket he had been using. It tumbled with a clanging sound as it hit the ground multiple times.

"It's not like that."

"Don't go there with me. Especially you. You don't want your brother using his abilities because you're afraid of him going darkside. You never have. What does that say about me?"

"It says nothing about you, Damien. Sam is being tutored by a demon, and he was infected from the time he was six months old — directly infected, according to him, by the Yellow Eyed Demon. It's just different with you."

Caleb stared at Dean for a moment; obviously it wasn’t enough of an answer. He couldn't explain how at first he didn’t want Sam's innocence taken away by using his abilities and that he was more worried now because Sam was attracted to using the power. There was no fear in Sam about being vigilant for his soul.

Dean looked up, wishing Castiel would come down now. "Next time Cas pays me a visit, I'll make sure to ask about you."

"That'll make me look desperate," Caleb said as he went to retrieve the empty bucket. "Forget it. Don't say anything. I don't want him to send Uriel. Sam has a few choice words about him."

Dean laughed at Caleb's attempt to diffuse a situation which was weighing heavily on him. He would still ask Castiel, add it to his list of questions, and he hoped he would get an answer.

*The Brotherhood* Supernatural*

Sam basked in the glow of family at the dinner table laden with a carved Virginia ham and a smoked turkey breast with assorted vegetables. Esme and Mac were seated next to each other, and it looked like a promising future. Joshua and Caleb were being excruciatingly polite in the presence of their parents. Sam wondered if it was them trying to redeem their previous actions.

His brother was seated next to him, a warm body, like he had had last Christmas. For a moment, Sam could believe nothing had changed and Dean hadn't spent four months in Hell.

Dean hit his glass with his fork, making a tinkling noise to draw attention to himself. "Josh has an announcement."

Joshua glared at Dean; Caleb poked him. "A big announcement. You better stand up." Caleb pulled Sawyer's chair, forcing him to move.

The blond hunter cleared his throat.

"Damn, Slick, you look like you're going to be sick," Bobby said, narrowing his eyes. "Is this good news?"

Sam covered his smile with his glass as Caleb came to Joshua's defense. "Shut up, Bobby," Caleb replied. "You're worrying the girls."

"Sorry, Josie, Esme," Bobby said with a bow of his head, and then winked at Caleb. "And Esme, ‘Slick’ is a nickname. Josh likes it."

"No, he doesn't. Right, Josh?" Caleb glanced at Joshua, who had told them many times his name wasn't supposed to be shortened either. Sam never used a nickname when it came to Joshua. He never thought the older hunter was as bad as Dean thought him to be, and it was weird now to have placed himself in the position where he had undermined Joshua. He didn't want to think about having to tell Joshua about Ruby. He fidgeted in his chair, glad his brother didn't notice and was watching the Joshua/Caleb/Bobby dynamics.

Joshua ignored Caleb. He was still standing, picked up his glass and took a drink, then said, "Carolyn and I are engaged." He sat down quickly while everyone was still reacting.

Sam was stunned even though he, along with Dean and Caleb, had already guessed the news. A pang of jealousy swept over Sam. He would have been the first from this ragtag group to have become engaged, married even, to Jessica. It was lost to him, especially since he had started using his abilities. Ruby was a demon. There would be no long term relationship with her.

Jocelyn started clapping. "Oh! Great-grandchildren!"

Joshua stood and went over to his grandmother, bending down to give her a kiss. "Not yet. We haven't set a date. Maybe a year or two."

"Congratulations." Sam put out his hand, thinking that he would be following good news with bad news, but perhaps it would soften the blow about Ruby.

"Congrats, man. As Guardian-elect am I supposed to do anything else, Mac?" Dean also put out his hand to Joshua. Dean didn't wait for Mac's answer. "Do I congratulate the bride-to-be?"

"No. Her family doesn't know yet." Joshua shook his head. "I'll be heading to Florida tomorrow morning. I got a room in town so I wouldn't bother anyone."

Caleb clapped him on the back. "And so you wouldn't have to bunk with Bobby in the trailer."

"That, too," Joshua acknowledged. Sam had noticed Esme had not responded to the news. Joshua moved back to his mother's side. "Mother?"

Esme kissed Joshua on each cheek, the scarf around her neck brushing Joshua's chin. "Carolyn is a lovely girl. I am proud she will be joining this family."

Mac offered his congratulations, too, and the dinner continued again with more of a happy buzz. The women were making wedding plans; Caleb and Dean were vying for the best man position while Mac was stepping in for Harland with fatherly advice. Sam's gut twisted at what he had missed with Jessica. He concentrated on his meal, realizing he would have to tell Joshua before he left. Dean would not let him leave it for another day, regardless of the holidays. With their lives, they didn't know when they would see Joshua again. This wouldn't wait for months.

He didn't appreciate Dean putting him in this position. Ruby had proven herself, had been there for them, and overcome her own loss. He wasn't flaunting his relationship with her. However, Dean said secrets had a way of coming out—as history had proven — and Sam needed to take responsibility.

He was upset that his brother didn't believe he took responsibility. He had taken responsibility to save people instead of killing them with his style of exorcism. He thought he had proven that to Dean, but his brother, The Guardian, asked for more.

After the languishing dinner, Esme and Jocelyn retired to the parlor to talk. The men weaved their way to the porch, tempted by Mac's congratulatory cigars.

After a few puffs amongst the camaraderie, Caleb broke the silence. "Dad, are you and Esme back on?"

Mac didn't answer immediately, instead watching the smoke coil upwards to the solitary light. "We are planning on spending more time together."

Caleb smiled, then elbowed Joshua. "Give him our gift."

"I made all the arrangements." Joshua fished out the tickets from his pocket and handed them to Mac.

"You two need to learn to share," Dean commented with a puff. "Like Sammy and me."

"Like Sam and you and the remote control at my place?" Bobby interjected, "Because as I recall, it was my own live Winchester Wrestling Federation."

Sam noticed Caleb and Joshua's relationship had sort of morphed into a more brotherly one. It wasn't like they were like him and Dean, but it was similar: knowing which buttons to press, the teasing, and the deeper connection.

"Have you ever been to Hawaii, Mac?" Sam asked to keep the conversation in its light vein. He didn't want to talk about The Brotherhood, or angels for that matter. He didn't trust the angels, couldn't believe they didn't see he was doing good.

"About twenty years ago at a conference. I really didn't get a chance to explore." Mac folded up the itinerary once more. "Thank you, boys. Esme and I appreciate the gift."

Sam didn't know if anyone else had noticed Mac had spoken of them as a couple. Finally, things were returning to somewhat normal for Mac, at least. Sam's normal with his brother ended when Dean went to Hell. They were now trying to carve out a new normal existence with Dean's connection to angels and Sam's connection to demons.

"You didn't notice the double beds yet." Dean chuckled, spraying the smoke in a stop-start cloud.

With the cigars finished and the cold night air descending on them, they decided to retire. Sam stayed out on the porch, waiting for Joshua as he said his goodbyes to his mother and grandmother.

"Joshua, can I talk to you for a minute?" Sam asked as Joshua exited the house. Joshua gave him a nod, so escorted the older hunter to his rental car. "You and Carolyn, that's really great. She was really there for you after what happened."

"Yes, she was." The lights on the rental flashed as Joshua unlocked the doors. "I'll pass on your well wishes." Joshua rested against the passenger side and looked at Sam. "Was that all?"

Sam's courage was fleeing. Joshua had been out of commission for months because of Ruby; his idea of putting a spin on the convalescence now seemed really weak. "Yes — no — I wanted to talk about Ruby."

"I’d rather not." Joshua moved away from the door.

Sam stopped him from rounding the trunk. "Ruby and Rose were together. They loved each other. So when Rose was killed, Ruby lashed out." Love was a base emotion, easy to understand and relate to for anyone.

"At me." Joshua's hand went to his chest, bringing to mind him lying on the Wilmington ranch floor having difficulty breathing.

"Right, and it was a mistake." He had wanted to lash out when Jess had been killed instead of biding his time for the Yellow Eyed Demon.

Joshua's eyes narrowed, and he backed up a step. "I don't know about that. She's a demon, and they are cold and calculating. They enjoy inflicting pain."

"Ruby's different. She wants to help." She had proven that to Sam over the last few months. "She's been helping me. She saved me and Dean." She had helped make their plan work when it came to Anna.

"She's back?" Joshua's eyes opened wide with incredulity.

Sam nodded.

"And you have allied yourself with her." Joshua closed his eyes.

"She's been helping me," Sam repeated softly, not wanting to say more about their connection.

Joshua brushed passed him, making his way to the driver's side rear door before edging back around with heat in his voice. "Somehow if it was Dean or Caleb who had been injured, I don't believe you would have reacquainted yourself with Ruby."

It was the truth. In all likelihood he would have killed her after she had saved him, sent her back to Hell without a second thought. "I'm sorry."

Joshua raked a hand through his hair and avoided making eye contact with Sam. "I will tell the coven, and they will find her." He then glared at Sam, who flinched in reaction to the disappointment he saw directed at him.

"However," Joshua started, "because of your position, and in respect of your brother's position in The Brotherhood, I will not tell the coven Ruby is connected to you."

Dean had said they couldn't fully trust Joshua on some matters because of his loyalty to the coven. Sam swallowed. He realized he had grown to genuinely respect Joshua, and any similar feelings from the blond hunter were now destroyed. "Thanks. I'm sorry." Joshua didn't reply. He got in the car, slamming the door, and didn't even look to see if Sam was still near the car as he roared out.

"Merry Christmas," he whispered. He felt alone. Sam looked back at the house. He would not receive any sympathy inside, not with Esme and Jocelyn present. Dean and Caleb would remain silent about the matter, uncomfortable with pitting a member of The Brotherhood against a demon who happened to save the life of the future Scholar.

So Sam waited until the house was still and he heard his brother creep outside to the pond. It was a ritual while they were at the farm, though Sam found it strange how Dean was transfixed with going to the place of his demise.

With Dean in the back, Sam went out the front door, clad in boots and fleece jacket to keep out the chilling frost. He moved quietly along the edge of the property until he reached the line where the road was before him.

"Ruby?" he called out to the Christmas Eve night sky. "Ruby?"

The End and Merry Christmas!



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