The Thing With Wings

By Ridley C. James, December 2008

Beta: Tidia

Disclaimer: Nothing Supernatural belongs to me.

Words: 23.881


Chapter 1/3

“Civilization rests on a set of promises; if the promises are broken too often, the civilization dies, no matter how rich it may be, or how mechanically clever. Hope and faith depend on the promises; if hope and faith go, everything goes.” –Herbert Agar

“It’s been almost four months, Mackland.” Bobby Singer perched on the edge of Mac's desk, staring at his friend.

The doctor didn’t look up, continuing to jot notes in a file. “There is no time limit on grief, Bobby”

“Grief?” Bobby picked up a framed picture of Mac, Jim, John and the boys. Bobby remembered taking it. “That’s what you’re calling this?”

Mackland carefully placed the file on the oak desk before lifting his solemn gray gaze. “Of course. They’ve lost a brother. What else would you call it?”

Bobby set down the photograph to study his old friend. The months hadn’t been kind to The Scholar. Having lost Dean and his relationship with Esme, he’d become almost as shut off as the boys. “Madness comes to mind.”

Mackland removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes. “I hear they’re hunting again. That says something.”

“Hunting?” Bobby stood, paced across the floor. He wondered at the skewed perspective of Mackland’s intricate network of spies . “Damn, Mac, they’re on a killing spree. Like a couple of rabid wolves.”

“They haven’t hurt any innocents.”

“They haven’t helped many either.” Bobby turned away from the window to face the doctor again. He understood what loss did to a person, had experienced his own descent into that particular darkness. Losing Jim then John had pushed him close to that ledge again, Dean’s death nearly enough to send him plunging over once more. He’d spent more than one night lost in the bottom of a bottle. “Other hunters are getting nervous. Even our friends. Whatever inroads you made, the boys are quickly cutting off.”

Mackland placed his glasses on the desk. “You’ve been talking to Ethan.”

“He’s tried to talk to Caleb.”

“I appreciate that but you and I both know their experiences are not the same. Gideon isn’t…”

“In Hell,” Bobby finished. That was the part that none of them could get past. There were no reassurances that Dean was in a better place.

Mackland picked up another file, putting his glasses back on. “Yes.” He pulled out some papers. “Sam and Caleb are merely trying to come to terms with that.”

“They’re still trying to find a way out. Neither one of them will call me back, and they’re conveniently not at home when I show up. Tricky work sneaking up on two goddamn psychics, but I have my sources, too.” Ellen was managing The Boonedocks for Kathleen. Hunters talked. Ellen was really good at listening. “I know what those boys are up to. I’ve seen them on a quest to help Dean before. It’s not pretty. It’s spiraling out of their control. I’m afraid of what they might do next.”

“We can’t ask them to stop looking.” Mackland glanced at him. “I can’t expect them to give up hope.”

“Now you sound like Jim,” Bobby growled. “What Sam and Caleb are doing has nothing to do with hope. It has everything to do with vengeance. Jim would not excuse what they’re doing. What happened to his big plan for the next Triad?”

“I’m not Jim. I don’t have an answer for everything.”

The mechanic took the chair by the desk with a heavy sigh. He rested his hands on his knees, studying the floor for a long moment as Mackland continued to prowl through his damn files. “You ever think Jim bet the whole farm on Dean?”


Bobby looked up. “The pastor was smart, he understood exactly what he had to gain and what he had to lose by backing the men he chose for The Triad.”

Mackland smacked the folder on the desk, shooting a harsh glare to the other hunter. Bobby was relieved to see some emotion, even if it was anger directed at him. “Are you insinuating that Sam and Caleb were the wrong choices?”

“Hell no.” Bobby rubbed his beard. “I’m saying that Dean grounded them. That Jim counted on Dean balancing them out.”

“You’re blowing this out of proportion.” Mackland shook his head. “They’ll be fine. They just need time. We all do”

“They’re not fine, Mac, and time is running out.”

“It’s only been…”

“Four months. I know.” Bobby met Mackland’s gaze. “It might as well have been four hours to them.”

“What would you have me do?” Mackland shoved away from his desk. “Would you have me turn to plan B - Ethan as Knight? Elijah as The Scholar? And what will become of Sam and Caleb then? Are we going to allow open season? Because you and I both know that is a very real possibility.”

Bobby sat up. He hadn’t considered such drastic measures. “No. I would never want that.”

“Don’t look at me that way.” Mackland stood, beginning a slow pace behind his chair. “It’s not something I could ever carry out.”

“But others might.”

Bobby didn’t miss the way Mackland’s jaw clenched. “Griffin called me this morning. With the recent surge of demonic activity, he and his faction are concerned about the future of The Brotherhood.”

“Fuck him, Mac.”

The doctor stopped, his gaze resting on Bobby. “He raised some of the same issues as you. It seems Sam and Caleb cleared house at a local bar last night. It was a front for a nest of vampires, but the things they did…”

Bobby swallowed thickly. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

“Excuse me.”

“You can’t train a dog to attack, to kill, and then expect it not to fall back on those instincts when it’s hurt or cornered.” Bobby ran a hand over his mouth. “Then you have to consider their breed. Some dogs are fiercer than others. Killing comes natural…”

“We are not talking about dogs, Bobby!” Mackland slammed his hands down on his desk. “For God’s sake we’re talking about our family. Samuel and Caleb.”

“That’s why I’m here, Mac. “ Bobby took a step closer to The Scholar. “We need to pull them back in, tighten the leash, before it’s too late.”

Mackland gripped the back of his leather chair, leaning against the support with a heavy sigh. “I know, damn it. I know.”


Boo was barking. Caleb lifted the pillow from his face and glared at the Retriever mix hovering by his bed, lips pulled back in an insufferable grin. “Goddamn it, Boo. Go bother Sam for your breakfast. Leave me the hell alone.”

The dog ran to the foot of the bed and back to Caleb. He continued to whine, pawing at the sheets when Caleb tried to cover his head once more. “You’re a pain in my ass, you know that.”

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.” Mackland moved to the head of the mattress, finding little satisfaction in the fact his plan to surprise his son was successful.

Caleb threw the covers aside with a groan. “You ever heard of calling before you come, Mac?”

Mackland tossed the strand of snowflake obsidian on the nightstand. “The farm has never been that kind of place, Son. Family was always welcome here.”

“Well, Sam and I own it now. So, maybe there’s a new set of rules.” Caleb sat up, ran his fingers through his long hair. “Why are you here?”

Mackland studied Caleb closer. His son had lost weight and that was only the beginning of the changes. The long hair Mackland had at one time missed was back, along with a slight beard that gave Caleb a dark, menacing look he did not need. The slight smudges and lines beneath his flat, emotionless gold gaze lent enough reason to be wary. “I came to check in on you and Sam.”

“Check up on us you mean.” Caleb set his feet on the floor, but didn’t get up. “Sam and I are just fine.”

“I’ve given you both space…time.” Mackland was beginning to see the distance had been as much a self-imposed exile as a respectful mourning time for the boys. He should have been more diligent.

“And what?” Caleb stood grabbing his jeans from the floor. He jerked them on. “The Scholar wants us back on the job?”

“I’ve heard you’ve already returned to work.” Mackland looked around the room, surprised his son was sleeping in Pastor Jim’s old bed, and not his own. A crossbow sat in the corner, along with a machete and broad sword. “Or is it something different?”

“Bobby come talk to you?” Caleb sniffed at a black t-shirt before sliding it over his head. “Or was it one of the Mathews doing their good deed for the day?”

“You have many eyes on you these days, Caleb.”

“Right.” Caleb snorted. “Because we’re The Triad.” He shook his head. “Only problem is, Dad, you kind of need three people to have one of those, hence the ‘Tri’ prefix.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

Caleb picked up one boot, forgetting its mate as he stood to face his father. “Oh, we are not having that conversation, Mac.”

“Yes we are, Caleb!” Mackland snapped. He was upset his son insisted on reverting to using his name and it irritated him that Caleb knew all his buttons to push. Boo jumped up on Caleb’s bed with a loud whine. The doctor took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. “It’s time to discuss appointing a new Guardian. We must provide a united front and formulate a plan to deal with the demon faction.”

“The hell you say.”

“Dean is gone.”

“You think I’ve missed that point?” Caleb brought his clenched fist to his chest. “It’s driven home every fucking day.”

Mackland moved towards his son. “He wouldn’t want this, Son. You have to know that.”

“Really?” Caleb stepped toe to toe with his father. “You think you know what Deuce wants? What he’s feeling right now?”


“No, you opened this can of worms.” Caleb poked a finger towards his chest. “Tell me great and wise Scholar what’s Dean feeling? You think he’s worried about Brotherhood business while he’s being tortured? You think maybe he’s wondering how Sammy and I are spending our free time while he’s suffering agony you and I cannot even begin to fathom? Maybe he even thinks about the Sox when he’s begging for the bastards to finish him off.”

Mackland lashed out, backhanding his son across the face. The slap resounded with a crack, snapping Caleb’s head back. Boo leapt to his feet, the hair on his back stood on end, growling. “That’s enough.”

Caleb brought his hand to his mouth, a twisted smile touching his face. “You’ve wanted to do that for a while now.”

Mackland felt sick. He’d never struck his son, but Caleb’s reaction had him feeling the perverse urge to do it again. Lucky for them both, Sam suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking bedraggled and half asleep. “Caleb?”

“It’s okay, Sammy. Go back to bed.”

Sam looked confused. He glanced at Mackland. “Is everything okay? I felt…”

Dad just dropped in for a little tough love intervention.” Caleb touched his lip again. “Right, Mac?”

Mackland moved his gaze to Sam. The boy looked as bad as Caleb. His hair was also longer and his face was bruised. “I’m here on official business, Sam. Why don’t you go get cleaned up and meet us downstairs in the kitchen? We need to have a talk.”

The doctor didn’t miss the fact that Sam sought out Caleb’s gaze. Mackland wondered if they were sharing some silent communication. He supposed the only good thing to come from their recent tragedy is that it sealed the bond between Knight and Scholar.

“Alright,” Sam said. Only he was looking at Caleb, not Mackland.

Mackland ignored the sudden need to explain he was the current Scholar, still in charge. Bobby was right. In his own grief, he had let things go too far. Mackland hardened his voice. “Start breakfast, Sam. Make some strong coffee.”

“It’s okay.” Caleb’s smile was more genuine as he looked at the other hunter. “Take Boo with you. Mac and I need to clear up a few things.”

Sam called the dog and left the room. Mackland gestured to where the boy had stood. “He doesn’t look good.”

Caleb’s smile disappeared. “Are you saying I’m not taking care of him?”

“No.” Mackland sighed. How had they gotten to this point where he no longer could have a normal conversation with his son? He couldn’t help but to think that Caleb held him responsible. Mackland felt responsible. “I know you’re watching out for him. This is an impossible situation.”

“He lost his brother. You can’t expect him to be happy go lucky.”

“I expect better than what’s taking place.” Mackland held his son’s gaze. “From both of you. And so would Dean.”

“Don’t talk about him. Don’t speak his name.” Caleb’s eyes hardened, his voice sharp. “Just drop it before we both do something we regret.”

Mackland was caught off guard by the acidic tone, but quickly covered. Years of dealing with John Winchester had not been for naught. “I can’t drop it. I made a promise to Dean, and now I’m going to follow through with it.” Mackland raised a brow. “You understand that, right. You made him promises, too. To watch out for Sam, to take care of the farm?”

Caleb looked away.

Mackland grabbed his arm. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not just The Scholar, I’m your father.”

Caleb sighed. “Say what you need to.”

Mackland released his son as he reached for the letter in the inside pocket of his jacket. “I don’t have to say anything. Dean will do it for me.” He handed Caleb the envelope. “Dean wrote this the day his deal came due. Sam also has one. Dean asked that I give you both some time and when I thought it was right to deliver them.”

“No.” Caleb stepped back, a wealth of emotion flooding his eyes along with a wash of moisture. “I don’t want it.”

Mackland’s chest clenched at the childlike tone, the way Caleb shied away from the letter as if it were an instrument of torture. All his anger fled, replaced by a deep ache, a gut-twisting desire to make it all better. “Son, he’s giving you one more moment with him. Can you seriously deny that?”

Caleb shook his head. “Why?”

Mackland felt the weight of that word, unsure of its intended reference. He offered the letter again. “Let Dean explain. Please.”

Caleb finally reached out, his hand trembled. “Just like Deuce to find a way to haunt me.”

The doctor grinned at the small glimpse of the Caleb he knew, the one still buried beneath the months of grief. “He was tempted to make a video, but was afraid it would ‘seriously freak you and Sam out’.”

Caleb took the envelope, traced his fingers over the familiar handwriting. One word. Damien. He looked at Mackland. “Dad, I’m not sure I can do this.”

“Of course you can.” Mackland gestured to the small area off the bedroom which served as Jim’s study. “I’ll be here if you need me.” He waited until Caleb sat down on the bed before heading to Jim’s desk by the balcony windows. Easing into the old leather chair, Mackland let his gaze rest on the pastor’s Bible before closing his eyes, relishing in the warm early morning sun. “The boys could use a miracle, Jim,” he whispered. “We all could.”


Caleb sat down on the bed, waiting for his father to give him space before he carefully opened the envelope. Two things fell out. The first was a crinkled piece of construction paper with aluminum foil edges. BBB: Badge of Merit was written across the front. The other was a plastic sealed Roger Clemens baseball card.

Caleb felt his eyes burn, his throat constrict. “Goddamnit, Deuce.” He picked up the handmade Wolf Cub badge, smiling at Sammy’s crude crayon rendition of a wolf before placing it and the Roger Clemens card off to the side. Caleb pulled out the letter and carefully unfolded it with Dean’s small, neat script sweeping across the page.


Stop your brooding, man. It’s time to get over it. Get on with the whole ‘Musketeer’ gig you live for. Do you think d'Artagnan threw down his sword when one of his brothers fell? Hell no. He got back up on his horse, put that gay tunic thing on and kicked some medieval ass. I wouldn’t expect anything less from his number one groupie. If Dad were there he’d kick your ass, Sammy’s too. Take this as an official John Winchester order in his stead. ‘Suck it up, soldier!’

You helped put me back together after Mom. I know you can do the same for Sammy. I’m counting on it. As for who’s going to take care of you…well, I’m placing my bet on Jim. The pastor’s still around. And so am I. If you need us, go to the pond. I know water isn’t your thing, but trust me on this. I’m closer than you think.

Caleb swallowed thickly as images of the last time he’d been to the pond flooded his thoughts. He and Sam had pulled the boat back to shore, the moon illuminating Dean’s torn, bloodied body. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the images from his mind as he tried to refocus on the blurring lines of Dean’s letter.

The Clemens card was always my favorite, not just because of the Sox or the fact Jim gave it to me, but because you remembered why it was important and made up that lame ass excuse as to why you didn’t sell it when I asked you to. You always remembered what was important, even when everybody else forgot.

I remember everything you did for me. You did save me, Caleb. I know what you’re thinking, man. And you’re wrong. You never let me down. And you didn’t lose me. Memories are kind of like your bridges, they can span earth and time. They’ll hold us together. I’m counting on them to keep you together. I need you to keep it together. For The Brotherhood. For Mac. And most of all for Sammy.

I left him my baby. But the Impala wasn’t the most important thing I had. It’s Sam, Caleb. I left you what meant the most to me. You understand that. I hate like hell you might have suffered because of it, but I know you get. You always got it. Only a big brother could understand. You earned that Best Big Brother badge long before I did. Any guy would have been damn lucky to have you as a brother. I’m glad the stars worked in my favor, I scored the privilege.

I love you, Damien. And having just written that incriminating chick statement, I order you as my last act as Guardian to burn this bitch after you’re done. No crying over it at midnight on my birthdays and shit. You’re not going to be John Winchester. Understand me? Now go get Sammy. You two go out, have a beer for me. Sleep with a hot chick, hell, maybe two. Carry on, men.


Caleb didn’t know how long he stayed there, holding the letter, rereading the words as he tried to absorb Dean’s essence from them. Since Dean’s death, it was one of the things that bothered him most. He didn’t feel Dean. There was a phantom ache, like losing a limb.

His father’s touch had him blinking back hot tears. “Son, are you okay?”

Caleb held up the letter. “Can you sense him?”


Caleb cleared his throat. “When you touch the letter does your ability give you any sensations? Anything I could pick up from you?”

Caleb watched his Dad kneel in front of him, moving his hands from Caleb’s shoulders, to rest on his knees. “No. You know I usually have to use items that have a strong sentimental value…”

“How about this?” Caleb shoved the card towards his father. “Deuce loved this card.”

Mackland didn’t take the card, but placed his hand over Caleb’s. “As far as my senses are concerned, Dean is gone. It’s like a…”

“Black hole.” Caleb finished for Mac, pulling his hand from his father’s touch. “A fucking abyss.”

Mackland took a seat on the bed beside Caleb. “Son, I understand what you’re going through, but it’s time to snap out of it.”

“No. You don’t understand.” Caleb carefully straightened the foiled edges of Wolf Cub badge. "For twenty years it’s been my job to protect him. It seems like my whole life. And now…he’s somewhere I can’t help him, and he’s hurting…and I can’t even connect with him. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to change that.”

“But you can’t change it. You and Sam can kill all the demons, vampires, other monsters, hurt yourselves in the process, but it will still not change the fact you are helpless to change Dean’s situation.”

Caleb stood, making his way to the nightstand by Pastor Jim’s bed. He opened the drawer, placing the construction paper and Clemens card beside the brass compass. “Is this supposed to be some kind of Scholarly pep talk, because it sucks.”

“No. This is one of those father things, the kind that hurts me as much as it does you.”

“I can’t let him go.” Caleb looked down at the letter. Dean ordered him to burn it. Instead he folded it and slid it into his back pocket. “I won’t.”

“He’s already gone, Caleb.”

Caleb slammed the drawer shut, shaking the lamp on top. “You can’t expect us to just get over it!” He turned on his father. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Mackland stood, took a faltering step closer to his son. “I expect that you and Samuel will never get over losing Dean, but I, as well as the rest of The Brotherhood, need you to move past it.”

Caleb raised his hands, warding off his Dad’s advancement. “Fuck The Brotherhood…”

“You don’t mean that.”

Caleb laughed. “Don’t be so sure. Things have changed. I’ve changed.”

Mackland closed the distance between them, gripping Caleb’s arms. “Dean wouldn’t accept that answer. He knew what his sacrifice would cost, just as he knew what this would do to you and Samuel. He and I had one of these same kinds of talks. Dean wanted to spare your suffering, change how hard it would be for you-save you and Sammy from your own version of Hell. But he couldn’t. He had to accept it, and move on. Just as the rest of us have to go on.”

“I miss him. I miss him so damn much.”

Mackland gripped him harder. “I miss him, too. I loved him. And because I loved him, I’m going to do my best to honor everything he lived for-died for.”

Caleb tried to pull back. “But I’m not you, Dad. Maybe I’m just not that good of a man.”

Mackland held on. “I know what kind of man you are. So did Dean.”

Caleb dropped his chin to his chest. “I don’t know what to do…to stop feeling this way.”

Mackland pulled him closer and Caleb didn’t have any strength left to fight him. He felt his father’s arms come around him, holding him as if he were a child again. He took solace for a moment, desperate for the connection. Caleb hadn’t touched anyone except the occasional hook-up since lifting Dean’s cooling body from the boat, helping Sammy put Dean in that fucking wooden box. The memory of his best friend’s blood on his hands gave him the power to pull back. He rubbed his eyes. “You said he left a letter for Sammy, too?”

Mackland sighed. “Yes.”

“Can I give it to him?”

“If you think that would be best.”

Caleb nodded. Taking care of Sam was the only thing he felt he had gotten right since Dean’s death. He promised Deuce he wouldn’t let anything happen to the kid. Sam was his responsibility now. “I do.”


Sam’s cell phone vibrated as he finished topping off Boo and Harper Lee’s bowls. He straightened, stiff muscles protesting the quick movement. The name Kristy flashed on the caller ID. Sam shot a quick glance towards the stairs before stepping outside onto the porch. “Ruby.”

He avoided the bruise on his cheek, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he listened to the annoyed voice on the other end. “I know I was supposed to meet you last night, but Caleb and I had to deal with something.”

Sam took a seat on the railing, giving him a direct view of the fields behind the farm house. The trees were beginning to turn, and a slight chill was in the air. He took a deep breath, really not in the mood to argue or explain himself to Ruby. “We got a last minute tip and I couldn’t leave him without any backup.”

Ruby’s reply was not unexpected, but still tore at Sam’s reserves of patience. She thought it was time Sam cut Caleb loose to focus completely on their new game plan. “That’s not going to happen.”

Ruby countered with the same point she’d been stressing since last month when Sam had strolled into a trap laid by Lilith’s henchmen. They had gotten the upper hand on him. Ruby had saved both their asses. “It’s getting better. The last one went off without a hitch.”

Sam let his gaze travel to the pond and beyond to the biggest oak in the distance. The site of it conjured an ache of longing. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, I need to go. Mackland’s here.” The last thing he needed was for The Scholar to realize Ruby was back from Hell, courtesy of Lilith herself.

He stood, turning his back to the scenery, staring at the Boo-sized tear in the screen as he continued to endure the one-sided argument. Sam had told Dean’s he’d fix the hole. Of course, he’d broken much more important promises. “It’s not like that.” Sam sighed as Ruby notched up the guilt. “This comes first. I’ll call you later when we can get together.”

Sam disconnected the phone without waiting for a reply. He re-entered the kitchen just as Mackland descended the stairs on the far-side of the room. Sam held up his phone, gesturing to the coffee pot. “Sorry, I had a call before I could get the brew started.”

“It’s okay.” Mackland waved him off, retrieving the filters from the top cabinet. “Anything important?”

Sam looked at the phone in his hand and then back to the doctor. “Just some information on a hunt Caleb and I have been looking into.”

Mackland turned on the water, filling the glass pot. “You two have been staying busy?”

“Yeah.” Sam headed to the refrigerator for eggs and butter. “You know how it is.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t made it a point to keep in touch.”

Sam chose to focus on breakfast in lieu of meeting The Scholar’s gaze. He grabbed a skillet and spoon. “No big deal.” Mackland had left him several messages in those first couple of weeks before Sam had disconnected his old phone. Sam had grown tired of erasing voice mails from Bobby and Elijah also. He was beginning to understand his father’s reclusive behavior a little more every day. He wanted to destroy Lilith, but he didn’t want to put anyone else in danger, especially Caleb, Mac or Bobby.

“I think I did you and Caleb a great disservice by not forcing the issue sooner.”

Sam took a bowl from the drainer for the eggs, cracking half a dozen before discarding the empty container. He figured Mackland had done him a favor. “What issue?”

The first month after Dean, Sam and Caleb barely communicated with each other let alone the outside world. They talked only about their next plan, recovering from each subsequent failure by individual vices. For Sam it was lots and lots of alcohol. Then Ruby showed up offering a different kind of escape.

“The Guardian issue.”

Sam turned on the stove, scooping a heaping of butter into the skillet before placing it on the burner. Caleb and he both knew this moment would be coming, still it sent a fresh wave of pain rocking through Sam. He studied his bruised knuckles for a long moment before finally turning to Mac. “You said we had time.” Dean had only been gone four months. There was still a chance to get him back, especially if Sam’s talents continued to manifest as Ruby promised.

“Time has come and gone. The moment to reclaim some ground is upon us.”

Sam turned, taking a metal whisk from the ceramic carafe on the stove. “What did Caleb say?” Sam and Caleb had immersed themselves in researching Triad power after Dean’s death only to come to the realization that without an intact traditional Triad, there was no power. Looking within The Brotherhood for answers was like putting the cart before the horse. No Dean-No Triad. No Triad-No getting Dean back.

“He’s upset, understandably so.”

Sam bit his lip. When he’d told Caleb what Dean had said about Elijah, the older psychic went ape-shit. Sam imagined using ‘upset’ to describe The Knight’s reaction was far off the mark, Mackland might have well have said his son was slightly perplexed by the idea of Dean rotting in Hell.

The doctor seemed to glean Sam’s thoughts. “He’s going to have to accept the idea. So are you.”

Sam poured the eggs into the melted butter, letting them sizzle for a moment before moving them around with a spatula. “I never wanted to be The Scholar in the first place.”

Mackland reached over and turned the flame down. “What does that mean?”

Sam continued to scramble the eggs. “It means that I don’t care what we do, what you tell us to do. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It mattered to Dean.”

Sam roughly whipped the eggs around. “Are you kidding me? Dean could have cared less about being The Guardian. That was all you, Jim and Dad.”

“In the beginning, perhaps,” Mackland said. “But in the end your brother was accepting of his role. He wanted to serve.”

“What good did it do him?” Sam slammed the spatula down, shoving the skillet off the burner “God. He did what you people asked, what Jim wanted and look where he ended up!”


Sam stepped away from Mackland and the stove, ran both hands through his hair. He had seen his brother change over the last year, watched as he gained confidence in himself. Dean started to realize on a small scale just what everyone else, including Sam, had known all along. Dean was capable of great things. Dean started to believe his life meant something besides being Sammy’s nursemaid and John Winchester’s doormat. It made the loss all the harder for Sam to bear. It was like The Brotherhood had set Dean up to pull the rug out from under him. And if Sam were honest, he felt victim to the same duplicity.

“He was The Guardian and he still went to Hell. Why should I care about The Triad or The Brotherhood if it couldn’t even save my brother?”

“The Brotherhood is not all powerful, Samuel.” Mackland moved closer, speaking in the calm, confident tone Sam had always admired, but now the reasonable inflection was like tossing kerosene on a campfire. “Being a member of The Triad isn’t about what the position can provide for you. It’s what you have to offer to others.”

“Right.” Sam rolled his eyes. “Dad took the position of Knight just to serve mankind? I’m not a little kid anymore, Mac. The fairytales don’t ring true.” John Winchester had used his position within The Brotherhood to find his wife’s killer, to offer camouflage for their tainted son. It was no different from Sam throwing in with demon kind to save Dean. “His intentions were far from noble.”

“Your father offered his service for a myriad of reasons, but don’t think for one minute that John didn’t believe in saving people, protecting other innocent families from suffering similar fates such as his.”

“He was a real hero.” Sam started to turn away, but Mackland caught his arm, his grip almost bruising.

“You’re right about that. Your father was a hero.”

Sam looked down at the doctor’s hand, controlling his first instinct to lash out. His heart rate picked up, face flushing. “Dean was a hero, too. Not a good selling point, Mac.”

The doctor let him go with a heavy sigh. “I know things seem dark. Believe me. You’ve read Samuel Colt’s journals. He faced the same struggles we are now going through. When Jim and John died I didn’t know if I could go on, if I could continue to lead, but I had to push through. It was my duty as The Scholar…”

“A duty you chose!” Sam snapped. “Damn it. How many times do I have to say it?” His father and brother were both gone, and Sam was still being held hostage to The Brotherhood. He took a step back, tried to regain his composure, and put some distance between them. “You’re missing the big point. I never said I wanted to be The Scholar.”

Mackland propped his hands on his hips. “I don’t think Dean was the only one to change his mind about being The Triad.”

Sam would admit there were times with Dean and Caleb when Sam embraced the idea, even relished it, but those naïve days were gone. He raised his right hand where he should have worn his silver band. “I’ve never worn the ring you gave me all those years ago. You told me I had a choice then and now you’re telling me I don’t? It doesn’t work both ways.”

“I also told you that if you weren’t careful your destiny would choose you," Mackland countered. “ You either act or you react, Samuel. There is no other alternative.”

Sam understood Mac’s point all too well. He was tired of playing catch up, determined to be in control of his destiny for once. Ruby was giving him that opportunity, not some farce of a Triad. “What do you expect from me, Mac?”

“Greatness.” Mac said without a hint of reservation. “I expect greatness from you, Samuel.”

Sam cursed the hot wash of tears he could feel building in his eyes, the choking lump of emotion robbing his voice of the anger he felt. “Greatness?” Sam laughed, bringing the palms of his hands to press against his eyes. “I don’t feel anywhere in the vicinity of great. I feel like a freak. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

“But that will change in time. I promise you you’ll find yourself again.”

“You don’t get it.” Sam backed away as Mackland tried to close the gap between them. He wiped away all traces of tears before shooting Mackland a challenging glare. “The guy you were banking on is gone. He was finished off four months ago.” It had been a languishing death starting with Jessica’s murder. “Maybe you should hedge your bets while you still have a chance.”

“I still believe in you, Sam. I still believe in Jim Murphy and the dream he had for The Brotherhood.”

Sam welcomed the familiar coldness that started in the pit of his stomach, branching out until it cloaked him like a dark cloud. “That dream died with Dean.”

“Only if you and Caleb let it.”

”That’s not fair.” Sam refused to let his father use his feelings for Dean as a way of controlling him. Mackland wasn’t going to guilt him into anything because of his loyalties to Caleb.

Mackland ran a finger over his eyebrow. “I’m quite sure in our numerous exchanges I have offered up the treasured bit of wisdom that life although glorious is anything but fair.”

“I’m not sure I can do what you’re asking,” Sam said.

“I’m not doing it without you.” Sam turned at the sound of Caleb’s voice. He was so focused on Mackland he didn’t register the fact the other psychic was in the room. Caleb took a seat in one of the chairs at the table. “Either we’re both in, or we concede together.”

Sam had a sudden thought to leave the farm and never look back. He felt Caleb's fear surge through their common link. Sam met his gaze. ‘I don’t want to do this, Caleb.’

‘Okay, Sammy. Screw The Brotherhood.’

Sam looked up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath. Caleb had always wanted to be The Knight. It was his dream since he was a kid. Only one thing was stronger than the older psychic’s desire to save the world and that was his need to fulfill his duty to Dean. Caleb promised his best friend he’d watch out for Sam, and if that meant handing off Excalibur he would if that’s what Sam asked of him.

‘Ethan will make a good Knight.’ Caleb’s thoughts echoed in his mind. ‘Dad can appoint a new Scholar before he retires.’

Sam flexed his hands, careful to keep his blocks in place. He knew Caleb had no reason to push past his barriers, but he couldn’t help to think about the abilities he and Ruby had been honing. How would his acceptance of what he was play into what everyone would expect him to be as The Scholar? He refocused on Caleb. ‘But Dean…’

‘Deuce would want you to be happy.’

“Boys!” Mackland’s booming voice had both of them snapping to attention, looking to the current Scholar. “Enough with the silent communication. You two are no longer afforded the luxury of existing in a secluded world. Time to rejoin the ranks. Do you understand me?”

Sam glanced to Caleb again, giving a silent nod. He turned to Mackland. “We’ll go talk to Elijah.”

Caleb frowned. “Are you sure?”

Sam wasn’t sure about anything anymore. “It’s what Dean asked us to do. We should honor that if nothing else.” Sam had broken enough promises since his brother’s death. There was no reason not to do what Dean asked on this matter.

Caleb looked at Mac. “Satisfied?”

Mackland didn’t look happy. “No. But I suppose it is a start.”

Sam felt grateful when Mackland’s cell rang, distracting the doctor from them. “I have to take this.” He motioned to Caleb. “Help Samuel finish breakfast and we’ll talk of what you both need to do next.”

Caleb waited until Mac was gone before standing and crossing the floor to Sam’s side. “We can stay in long enough to deal with the demon crisis. If we don’t have Deuce back by then, we can call it quits.”

When Sam didn’t say anything, Caleb reached out and clasped his shoulder. “Sammy?”

“Sounds good.” Sam licked his lips, forcing a weak smile. “All for one and one for all.”

“Damn straight.” Caleb let him go. Sam watched as he reached into his coat pocket bringing out an envelope. “Mac brought something for you.”

Sam arched a brow. “Why didn’t he give it to me?”

“Because it’s a letter from Dean. After he played postman with me, I asked if I could give you yours. I thought it might be…well, you know.”

“Weird?” Sam touched the letter with one finger. It was another link to his brother. “Why would Mac wait until now?”

“Deuce asked him to give us some time.” Caleb held out the letter. “You know Dean.”

Sam did know Dean. He took the letter with a trembling hand. Sammy was written across the front. “He was trying to protect us.”

Caleb gestured to the stove. “I can finish up in here if you want to take that outside.”

Sam met the other psychic’s gaze. “That bad?”

Caleb didn’t even attempt to make a joke. “Like having the knife in your gut twisted very, very slowly.”

Sam swallowed hard. That explained why Caleb looked more wrecked than he had last night after the run in with the vamps. Nothing like some emotional torture all done in the name of love. “I’m not sure I’m up for that.”

“Honestly?” Caleb took a heavy breath, sliding a hand through his hair. “It was worth every agonizing second. It was like I could almost hear his voice, Sammy…”

Sam looked down at his own letter when Caleb’s words trailed off, his gold eyes brighter than usual. “I’ll be out at the pond.”

Caleb quickly stepped out of his way. Sam had learned if he needed time to himself, the pond was one place the other psychic would not come looking for him. Caleb hadn’t been to the pond or to the field beyond its banks since the day they buried Dean. “Take your time.”

Sam didn’t rush. He walked slowly, not minding that Boo trailed along behind him. Harper Lee was more like Caleb. The Beagle hadn’t been near the water since the hell hounds had attacked Dean. Boo scurried around the bank as they passed the pond, nose to the ground, whining and growling. He gave up the hunt for his invisible nemesis quickly, choosing to follow Sam across the adjacent field to the stand of trees bordering the woods where they buried Dean. Sam and Caleb covered the fresh grave with Jim’s old row boat. Caleb wanted to burn the bloodied vessel, but Sam wasn’t sure he could watch it go up in flames, having lost too much to fire. Seeing the boat moored in the pond was too much to ask of either of them. It was excellent camouflage. Only the small wooden cross Bobby made marked the spot as an internment.

Sam took a seat on the grass by the vessel, pulling some of the larger weeds from around the cross. He was stalling. The piece of paper his brother left for him was not going anywhere. Sam could almost see the smirk on Dean’s face. Little Sammy was afraid of a letter. More precisely, Sam was frightened of what his brother had to say, what it might do to the tentative control Sam had retained. He had played those final moments at the pond over and over in his head on a daily basis, dreamed of them and the aftermath almost every night.

Sam looked over at the cross. “I guess this is nothing compared to whatever it is you’re dealing with today.” Sam couldn’t even grieve properly without feeling guilty, knowing Dean’s suffering was a hundred times greater. It sucked not having an outlet for his feelings. Only when he used his abilities did he actually feel as if he were doing something useful.

The thought reminded him he hadn’t been to his brother’s graveside in weeks and the reason behind his absence. “Ruby told me some things about Hell…” It wasn’t pleasant pillow talk, but it sure sealed Sam’s decision to stay on the quest for Dean’s release. Hearing it made what he was doing seem justifiable. Ruby told him Dean was in a worse place than she was. His brother was being held on a level reserved for the select few, receiving the V.I.P. treatment.

“She’s back, by the way.” Sam felt a familiar rush of guilt. He needed to come clean, even if Dean couldn’t hear him, absolve him. “Lilith let her out of Hell in exchange for killing me. Ruby betrayed her. That has to count for something. Right? She’s saved my life more than once.” Sam was grateful the conversation was one-sided.

“She loved Meg.” Sam knew it was a lousy excuse for hurting one of their own. It sounded worse coming from him than it did when Ruby said it. Sam threatened to send her ass straight back to Hell, rescue or not, when she tried to compare him losing Jessica to the hurt she felt when Dean had killed the Yellow-eyed Demon’s daughter. “I know it doesn’t make up for what she did to Joshua, but I really believe she wants to help now. She’s changed.” It was the only way Sam could work with her. “When I get to Lilith and force her to let you go, then it will all be worth it. Everything I’ve done will be worth it. You’ll understand.”

Sam looked over the fields as a slight wind picked up. Even the warmth of the early morning sun couldn’t help him muster enough optimism to believe his brother might understand the rest of what he was hiding. Instead of thinking about the progression of his abilities, and the things he’d done to ensure he continued to improve, he focused on the reason he’d come. Dean’s gravesite seemed the appropriate place to read his brother’s letter. “I guess it’s time to man up.”

Sam took the envelope letter from his pocket.

A glint of silver winked at him as he opened the tri-fold. It was Jim’s cross pendant. The pastor was never without it. Caleb kept it after Jim’s death, and sometime last year Sam noticed it appeared around the Impala’s rearview mirror. Sam asked his brother about it. Dean waved him off mumbling something about it being Damien’s way of telling Dean to have hope. His brother turned up the radio, going back to his drum solo on the steering wheel before Sam could say more. Hope was still a possibility then.

Sam looked from the silver cross to the wooden one at the head of Dean’s grave. “You really are big on the whole re-gifting thing, aren’t you?” Sam had seen Caleb looking at his brother’s brass compass a few times over the past four months as if it might provide him some kind of hint as to where to go or what to do next. Sam had originally given the compass to Dean as a father’s day present when Sam was just a kid, but the brothers had exchanged it between them on various occasions whenever the sentiment of the words engraved on the antique seemed right. Sam was glad Dean had given it to Caleb. Sam wasn’t the only one lost without Dean.

Sam lifted Jim’s necklace off the paper, taking a deep breath before reading the words his brother had left him as a final gift.


When I sat down to write this I couldn’t stop thinking of all the times I forged Dad’s signature on notes for school. That got me to thinking about your first day of kindergarten and how I think I was more freaked out than you when I dropped you at the door. It was like I was tossing you into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket. I remember the day dragged on forever as I watched the clock waiting for the moment I could go get you, make sure you were still there and in one piece. And now, here we are again. I’m leaving you. Even though you’re grown up, this day is a hundred times worse, because I know in all likelihood I won’t be coming back. I won’t know how your day turned out, Sammy. I hope you’re okay.

It’s all I ever wanted, for the people I love to be okay. That’s why I want you to go back to school, finish up the lawyer thing. Mac is the perfect example that a Scholar can do both hunting and have a normal life. He’ll help. So will Damien. Do the whole damn thing, Bro. Don’t settle. Have the wife, 2.5 kids, white picket fence and a horny dog named Boo. Live it up for the both of us. Mom’s death took too many of our choices and stole most of our childhood. Please don’t let my punching the clock rob you of any more time.

I may not know how your story ends, Bro, but I remember what Pastor Jim once told me about the dragons when I asked him if the castle was all a lie. He said that sometimes the actual truth wasn’t as important as what a man chose to believe in.

I choose to believe that in the end good will kick evil’s ass, and you will live happily ever after. As for Jim, he believed that love-real love-could never die, that it was more powerful than any wizard’s magic. I’m not about to question the pastor. So, even though the enemy cut me down, won the fucking battle, I still win the war. Because if there is one thing a Winchester knows how to do besides disassemble and reassemble any gun known to mankind in record time, it’s how to love. Even if we really suck at saying it out loud. I believe that makes us as immortal as old Merlin himself.

What I’m trying to say here in this totally gay and disgustingly sappy chick-flick way is that I’ll always be with you, little brother, even when I’m not. So stop sulking and doing stupid shit. Now’s your chance. Find your normal. That’s an order.

Captain Onehelluva Big Brother

Sam blinked. He watched the ink on the paper run together as tears splashed on the page. “Damn you, Dean!”

He made it to his feet, crushing the letter in his fist. “You’re such a hypocrite.” Sam hauled off and kicked the boat, putting a large dent in the side. “You can’t order me to go on without you…you dick head!”

Boo whined. Sam whirled on the dog. “What? He is.” Boo lay down, letting his head rest on his paws with a heavy breath. Sam felt only slightly guilty. “You’re just a dog. What do you know?”

Boo continued to look at the boat. Sam sighed, kneeling down to run his fingers over the dog’s fur. “I’m sorry. I miss him, too,” he whispered. It was the real reason Sam was angry. Lilith was the one who deserved Sam’s rage, not Dean. “We’ll get him back. No matter how long it takes, I won’t stop trying. I promise.”

It was the only goal Sam could focus on. School was in the past, and a family of his own an unlikely future. He couldn’t do all that Dean asked of him, but he could fulfill one request. Sam reached out and placed Pastor Jim’s necklace over the wooden cross. He didn’t need a reminder of hope. His faith would only be restored when Dean was back with them. “Caleb and I are going to meet with Elijah. Not because we’re giving up, but because you asked us to. This isn’t over, Dean. Not by a long shot.”


“This doesn’t feel right,” Caleb said. He peered up at the wooden doors before them. It was a stupid last minute gesture, one he was already regretting. “Let’s just go.”

“This was your idea.” Sam reached out and grabbed his arm keeping him from descending the stairs. “Remember?”

Caleb glanced down New Haven’s main avenue. It was dark and quiet. Their drive through town on the way to Texas would have been unimpeded had he not been struck by the odd thought. “That doesn’t mean it was a good one.”

“I don’t know.” Sam let him go with a smirk. “If you’re admitting to being wrong miracles are already at work.”

Caleb snorted. “Right.” He rubbed his hands together, working up his nerve to reach for the brass door knob. It had been his idea, after all. “It’ll be a miracle if we don’t burst into flames when we cross over the threshold.”

Sam folded his arms across his chest. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Caleb’s gaze went back to the stained glass windows of the church. “That could depend on interpretation.” He wanted to believe the other psychic, but couldn’t deny the doubt his father’s visit had awakened.

“Jim always said we were welcome here.” Sam reached out and placed his hand on the door. “And that we would be safe.”

Caleb had good reason for his doubt. “This was the last place I saw Jim. He was in a pool of his own blood.” He watched Sam’s hand slide from the knob. “So much for safe.”

Sam took a step back. “Then let’s just leave. Go meet with Eli and get it over with.”

Caleb eyed the younger psychic. If someone would have told him a year ago that solidifying his position as one third of The Triad would be a task viewed as punishment, he would have thought they were certifiable. But that’s exactly what it felt like. Caleb didn’t want to be The Knight without Dean. He liked Elijah, but couldn’t imagine the professor ever filling even one of his best friend’s shoes.

“No. You’re right. This is important to me.”

Caleb’s struggle with what Mackland was asking of them was part of the reason behind the impromptu visit to Jim’s old stomping ground. He wasn’t quite sure how he was supposed to follow through with the orders he felt honor bound to carry out. Sam had followed him from the car in what he supposed was an act of moral support. Caleb appreciated it more than he could say. He looked down at his ring, sliding his thumb across the silver band then back up to Sam.

“But you don’t have to come, Runt. This is something I need to do.”

“Look man, Dean would understand how you feel about the grave…”

“No.” Caleb held up a hand to interrupt the reprieve he didn’t deserve. “If I’m going to go talk to Elijah, accept his position, then I need to do this.” As much as Caleb hated to admit Mackland’s psycho-babble was dead on, he couldn’t deny the gaping wound that Dean’s death had left. He needed some kind of closure, however symbolic. Since he couldn’t seem to get himself to visit his best friend’s actual grave, Jim’s church seemed the next best place for some healing to start.

“I don’t see how it will help.” Sam stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, hunching his shoulders. “But I’ve got your back.”

Bolstered by Sam’s declaration, Caleb reached out and opened the door to Pastor Jim’s church. “I guess we can look on the bright side. Smiting is probably a quick death.” Sam chuckled. It wasn’t a real laugh, but it was the closest thing to it Caleb had heard from Sam in a long time. Caleb wondered if the kid could be right about those miracles.

“I’ll let you go first, just in case,” Sam said.

“Sounds just like something a Scholar would say.”

Sam bumped him with his shoulder. “You are the one with the shield.”

Caleb took a deep breath, feeling anything but protected. He hadn’t been back to the church since arriving too late to stop Meg from killing Pastor Jim. The idea that he could find some sort of peace, some sort of connection to Dean here was feeling more and more ludicrous. “Here goes nothing.”

The entrance was anti-climactic. Caleb felt Sam move to his side as they breached the sanctuary. “So far, so good.”

Sam moved past him. “Nothing’s changed. I guess Brother Benjamin didn’t have it in him to redecorate.”

Caleb continued up the center aisle, his boots sinking in the plush cranberry carpet. The silence was unnerving and he fought the urge to whisper. “He threatened Jim with renovations for years. In the end, I guess he realized that simple is best.”

They stood side by side in front of the pulpit, staring up at the statue of Jesus, his hands opened wide in a gesture of welcoming acceptance. “Jim always said the most important part of a church was the one thing you couldn’t see.” Caleb swallowed thickly. “He said you didn’t have to see something to feel it.” He pried his gaze from the empathetic stare carved in stone, looking instead to Sam. “Do you feel anything?”

Sam regarded him with eyes brighter than usual. “Anything? Or Dean?”

Caleb looked away. “This was stupid.” He was crazy to think this would make one damn bit of difference. Maybe he should have just given in and made the trek up the mountainside to plant a freakin’ tree in Emma’s garden.

“No.” Sam lifted one of the candles that lined the altar. He handed it to Caleb. “It wasn’t.”

Caleb took it with a shaky laugh. “I’m surprised Brother Benjamin hasn’t converted to those plastic imitation candles with batteries.”

Sam shrugged. “Maybe he’s hoping the whole place will burn down so he can rebuild from scratch.”

“Everything’s a conspiracy with you Winchesters.”

“You’re stalling,” Sam said. He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a silver lighter which he offered to Caleb. “The quicker you pull the Band Aid off the less it hurts.”

Caleb wondered if this entire side trip was a last ditch effort to stall on the inevitable, approaching Elijah about the position of Guardian. He watched as Sam backed away from the altar, offering him some space. Caleb lit the candle, taking a deep breath and holding it. He closed his eyes, allowing the images he’d sandbagged for the last four months to submerse him. Smothered by the wave of grief that crashed upon him, Caleb reached for the connection he shared with Dean, hoping to be rescued by the familiar lifeline. He was prepared for the emptiness that would assuredly leave him floundering, but instead his eyes snapped open. He gasped like a man deprived of air for far too long.

Sam touched his arm. “Caleb?”

Caleb blinked, looking at the flame he was holding and then to Sam. “Did you feel that?”

Sam frowned. “What?”

“Deuce.” Caleb slowly shook his head. “I could have sworn I felt Deuce.”

Caleb watched as Sam looked up at the altar before closing his own eyes. When he met Caleb’s gaze again, his lashes were wet. “It’s like an echo.”

Caleb smiled, grateful he wasn’t imagining things, but even more thankful for the spark of life he hadn’t realized was missing from Sam’s eyes. “I’ll take an echo over an abyss any day.” He wasn’t sure what he’d been hoping for, but even a small trace of Dean was beyond his wildest dreams.

Sam nodded, sharing in the sentiment. “He’s still with us.”

Caleb reached out and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. It didn’t change what they had to do, but Caleb would take it as a sign they were finally on the right track. “Miracles do happen.”


Chapter 2

“Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.”-Samuel Smiles

It was dark. Dean’s first breath of stale air was like inhaling fire.

He coughed, trying to pull in more oxygen, fighting the panic. He didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t see. It took concentration to breathe. He tried to scream, but was betrayed by his body and only managed a strangled cry.

Fear closed in, familiar and constant, reminding Dean he was never alone, never without a threat lurking close. Too close. Everything was too close.

He was in a box- a fucking pine box. His situation became clear in one terrifying second-yet another nightmare realized. Dean Winchester was buried alive.

He gave up on screaming and did the one thing he was good at. Dean fought. After busting free from his wooden tomb, it took little time to reach the surface of the shallow grave, but when he worked his head and shoulders free of the dirt more darkness was his reward. Dean feared it was all some elaborate torture, a new game for his tormentors to enjoy.

Then he heard it- scratching then barking. In Dean's experience hell hounds did not whine or yip. He struggled, reaching up. His bruised and battered hand met cold metal and he gave a hard push. The dome disappeared, revealing dying sunlight, and the furry, golden face of Boo Radley.

Boo barked again, and this time Dean winced as he was no longer buffered from the shrill sound by Pastor Jim’s aluminum fishing boat. The dog backed up, crouching, digging his back paws into the soft dirt as he continued his noisy barking. Dean freed the rest of his midsection and legs from his earthbound prison. Collapsing onto his back, he took a deep breath of fresh air. “You could have helped,” Dean rasped.

Boo pounced, his wet nose nudging Dean’s hand before sniffing at his arms and chest. Dean apparently passed the dog’s scent test and received a lavish tongue bath of his dirt-stained face as first prize.

Fighting off Boo’s affections and standing up was an accomplishment. Dean leaned on his knees, taking a look around. He recognized the fields of the farm, but every living thing within a twenty feet radius was leveled. “What the hell…”

Boo barked, wagging his tale, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth in contentment as if Dean clawing his way from a grave was a great game they repeated daily. Dean frowned at the completely unharmed dog. “Why aren’t you an ashy ground zero imprint?”

He wondered if the entire setting was a trick of his mind, momentarily hopeful he had reclaimed the ability to mentally escape his torment even if it had come too late to redeem him. Dean rubbed his head. That didn’t add up. Never once during his dream-like excursions to the farm had he been anywhere but the pond and in the farmhouse, the only dogs present the long dead Atticus Finch and Scout.

Images flashed through Dean’s mind, blood and gore. He lifted his shirt, staring down at his chest. The skin was smooth, untouched. “That can’t be…” His shoulder flared with the movement and Dean pulled at his left sleeve. A hand-shape brand stood out starkly against his pale skin. “What the…”

Dean returned his gaze to the grave. A wooden cross was staked at the head. Dean saw the glint of silver and made his way to the marker, kneeling to claim Pastor Jim’s pendant. “Sammy.” He looked around at the desecration. “Damn it.” Dean clutched the silver cross in his hand. “What did you do?”

He ran to the farmhouse, Boo nipping at his heels the entire way. He skidded to a halt at the back porch, a sudden wave of disbelief bringing him up short, casting doubt on the situation. Boo looked up at him before bounding up the stairs.

“"This isn't Hell." Dean said. His hope warred against his fear, but the weight of Jim’s cross solid and real in his hand gave him the courage to open the door. A part of him expected Jim or Gideon to be sitting at the table waiting for him like they had so many times in his intermittent reprieves. Instead, the kitchen was empty. The house was eerily quiet.

“Sammy?” Dean touched the table, moving to the counter where he ran his fingers over the wooden cabinet doors that Mackland had replaced for Jim several Christmas’s before. “Caleb?”

Harper Lee appeared from the sitting room, matted gray squirrel held firmly in his teeth. An image of Atticus with an older pristine version of the toy flashed through Dean’s mind. Harper crossed to Dean, tail wagging so furiously his whole body trembled. Dean bent, sliding his hands over the fat Beagle’s velvet ears. “Good to see someone’s home keeping a watchful eye on the old place.”

Dean stood, his thirst demanded attention. He found a bottle of water and a questionable slice of cold pizza in the refrigerator. The coffee pot, although unplugged, still had grounds in it. One bite of the pie told Dean it wasn’t very old. There was a newspaper on the table. Dean picked it up, his eyes going to the date at the top.

“September 18th. Four months.” He looked at the dogs. “I’ve only been gone four months.”

He dropped the paper and reached for the phone on the wall, dialing his brother’s cell. Dean growled in frustration, Sam's number was no longer in service. He cut the connection and called Caleb, getting Damien’s voicemail.

“This is Caleb Reaves. If you need help call Ethan Mathews at 972…”

Dean hung up before his best friend could finish Ethan’s cell number. The message was too similar to Dad’s and Dean regretted the pizza as his stomach lurched. Bobby had to know where they were.

Bobby hung up the instant he said who he was. Dean tried again with the same ending only this time Bobby threatened to kill him before cutting the connection. He rested the handset against his forehead until the phone began emitting a sharp whining sound ; next the small television and radio combo Jim kept in the kitchen blared to life, loud static filling the room. Dean placed the handset back on the receiver.

The lights flickered. Boo's tail thumped on the floor. Harper squeaked his toy.

Dean grabbed the salt can by the upright freezer and started for the door. Demons shouldn’t have been able to breach the sanctuary of the farm, but obviously something had pulled him out of the pit. He barely finished the line when a high-pitched ringing vibrated through the house. The dogs began to howl. Dean tried to get to the windows but the shrill sound was like a spike drilling into his skull. It drove him to his knees. He dropped the can and covered his ears with his hands.

Another lashing, had the windows in the kitchen imploding, the glass in Miss Emma’s China cabinet shattering, showering Dean with shiny shards. As quickly as it started, the noise stopped, the television shut off and all was quiet again.

“Shit.” Dean staggered to his feet, looking at the destruction. “What the hell is going on?”

He wasn’t waiting for another episode. Dean wanted answers and hoped Mackland would be more receptive than Bobby. As soon as the doctor answered Dean launched his offensive. “Mac, I know this sounds crazy, but don’t hang up! It’s me… Dean. You’ve got to believe me.”


Mackland’s voice didn’t have the same acid as Bobby’s as he demanded to know who was calling him, but there was the same skepticism.

“Mac,” Dean talked fast knowing he wouldn’t get another chance. “Caleb calls me Deuce because his mom was pregnant when she died. How would anyone but me know that?” As far as Dean was aware, his best friend had shared that secret with only two people and the other person was on the line. “Isaac gave him the wild card because Amelia didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or girl. Damien wanted a brother.”

“My God…Dean?”

Dean leaned his back against the wall, sliding to the floor. Boo and Harper vied for position on his lap. “Yeah,” he gave a hollow laugh. “It’s me.”


Bobby stepped out of his car, eyeing the farmhouse. Every light was on, casting a warm glow on the yard and beyond. Caleb’s latest purchase was the only vehicle in the drive. Mackland’s phone call ordering him to Pastor Jim’s place hadn’t set well, especially in light of the earlier prank.

The Scholar, only having arrived in Manhattan that morning, was ready to hop the next flight back to Kentucky himself, but Bobby told him to keep his ass in New York until he checked out the situation. Mackland believed Dean was back, but Bobby didn’t have that kind of faith. If something had returned it more than likely wasn’t their Dean. Demons could mimic people, even pluck obscure details out of a person’s thoughts, and figure a way to breach Jim's security. Mackland should know better.

Bobby checked to make sure he had both his silver blade and holy water before moving towards the back porch. The television was on. He looked in through the kitchen door window and frowned. Boo was sitting at the door, looking up at the window, his tail swishing on the floor behind him. He tilted his head in a gesture of ‘why aren’t you coming in already’.”

Bobby leaned back, unsure of what to make of the situation. Dogs could sense evil. Boo looked happy as a lark. He was reaching for the knob, blade in hand when the door suddenly swung open.

Dean Winchester stood framed in the entranceway, back lit by the light from the kitchen. “Surprised?”

Bobby reeled, his mind unable to reconcile the man that stood before him with the wrecked body he’d helped bury four months before. “I don’t…”

“Yeah. Me neither.” Dean waved the mechanic in. “But here I am.”

Bobby’s anger flared. He lunged forward, brandishing his knife. Dean fought him off, but Bobby managed to deliver a blow to the abomination’s face, knocking the monster back.

“Bobby, Bobby it’s me!” Dean grabbed one of the kitchen chairs, sliding it between them.

“My ass.” Bobby started forward. “Wait,” Dean said. He held up his hands in front of him. “Your name is Robert Steven Singer, your family has been in The Brotherhood for at least ten generations. You like Johnny Cash, think the 67 Mustang is a pussy car and you’re about the closest thing I have to a father.”

It was the last statement that had Bobby faltering. The sincere look in Dean’s green eyes tore at every old wound in Bobby’s soul. Burying Dean had been worse than destroying his wife, comparable to what he imagined to be the agony of losing a child.

“Bobby…it’s me.”

Bobby moved round Boo, laying a hand on Dean’s shoulder. The warm flesh and blood had another wave of fury surging through the mechanic and he lifted the knife to finish the creature off.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Dean blocked him, catching his wrist. “I’m not a shapeshifter.”

“Then you’re a fucking revenant!” Bobby tried to wrestle free of the hold.

Dean shoved him back, coming away with the other hunter’s blade. Bobby braced himself for the attack, but Dean put the blade to his own arm. “Alright. If I was either, could I do this with a silver knife?”

Bobby watched in shock as the impostor Dean brought the blade across his skin, blood bubbling to the surface. No beast he knew of was immune to silver, that meant… “Dean?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Bobby moved forward, his eyes stinging. He reached out and grabbed Dean, hugging him hard. “It’s good to see you, boy.” Bobby held on for a long moment, then pulled back, grinning at Dean.

“Yeah, you too,” Dean said.

“But how? How did you bust out?”

“I don’t know.” Bobby watched as Dean gestured to the broken windows behind them. They were covered with cardboard and Duct tape. The mechanic reached in his pocket, his hands latching on to his silver flask.

“I just…I woke up out back in a pine box…”

When Dean turned back around Bobby splashed him in the face with the holy water.

Dean sputtered. “I’m not a demon either!”

“Sorry.” Bobby lowered the flask, finally convinced. “Can’t be too careful these days. “

Dean wiped a hand over his mouth. “Right.”

Bobby pulled a chair from the table and took out the flask from his other pocket. “This don’t make a damn lick of sense. Dean your chest was ravaged. Your insides were slop. We practically had to shovel you out of the boat.” Bobby unscrewed the lid and pulled a long drink of whiskey. “And you’ve been buried for four months! Even if you could slip out of Hell and back into your meat suit…”

Dean took the seat on the other side of the table. “I know. I should look like a star from one of the latest slasher films.”

Bobby offered him the flask. “What do you remember?”

“Not much.” Dean took a drink, returning the flask. “I remember I was a hell hound’s num num. Then…lights out. Next thing I know I come to six feet under. That’s it.”

Bobby palmed his eyes. “Shit.”

“Sam’s numbers not working. Caleb’s not picking up…”

“They’re alive; at least that’s what Mackland tells me.”

“What do you mean?”

Bobby returned the flask to his jacket. “I tried to look after them.” Bobby pounded his fist on the table. “These last months haven’t been exactly easy you know, for them or me. Mackland either. We had to bury you.”

Dean frowned. “Why did you bury me, anyway?”

Bobby swallowed thickly, remembering the day as if it were yesterday. Caleb had to pry Sam away from Dean’s bloodied corpse. “I wanted you salted and burned. Like Jim and John. Usual drill. But Sam wouldn’t have it. He said you’d need a body when he got you back home somehow. Caleb backed him up. Mackland refused to push the issue.”

“Well, I’m glad they won that round.”

“ If you’ve forgotten they both inherited your old man’s mile-wide stubborn streak.”

Dean snorted. “And his temperament.”

Bobby wouldn’t deny that. “About a month ago, they showed back up on the radar-started hunting again. “ The mechanic ran a hand over his mouth. “If you can call it that.”

“Bad?” Dean asked.

Bobby didn’t think it was necessary to get into specifics. “Very bad.”

“But what about Mac and The Triad? Where the hell is Elijah? He should have ordered them to keep a low profile.”

“As far as I know, the kid’s still in Texas, blissfully unaware you planned on him being your successor.”

“You’re shitting me.” Dean held up his right hand. “But Jim’s ring... He should have been The Guardian-elect by now.”

“Try telling that to the future Scholar and Knight.”

“But if they’re not the Triad and they’ve been hunting together…”

Bobby nodded. “They’ve definitely raised disapproving brows of a few influential people.”


“He’s not the only one. Ellen’s helping Kathleen manage The Boonedocks. She says there’s been a lot of talk among hunters, both union and not.” Bobby placed his elbows on the table. “Mac came out here yesterday to knock some sense into Sam and Caleb before they found themselves bumped up the most hunted list. From what he says, he got through to them and the boys should be on their way to Texas to talk to Eli. If you ask me, they should have done that three months ago.”

Dean paced around the table. "They've been busy, trying to get me back home."

Bobby followed Dean with his eyes, still basking in his return. “What makes you so sure?”

“You should have seen the gravesite. It was like a small nuke went off. And then there was this force, this presence….it blew past the house. Shook the place on the foundation.”

“That what happened to the windows and Emma’s cabinet?”

Dean nodded, lifting his shirt sleeve. “And then there’s this.”

Bobby leaned forward, studying the red puckered scar on Dean’s shoulder. It was in the shape of a hand print. He’d never seen anything like it. “What in hell?”

Dean pulled his shirt down. “It looks like a demon just jerked me out. Or rode me out. But that's it, no other scars.”

“You think Caleb and Sam made some kind of deal.”

Dean looked down at the table, before meeting Bobby’s gaze again. “It’s what I would have done.”

Bobby’s cell startled them both. The mechanic dug it from his pocket, sighing when he read Mackland’s name. “Yeah.” Bobby flashed Dean a look. “You were right, Mr. Scholar. It’s him.” Mackland wanted details, none of which they knew or had the time for. “We don’t know the specifics. The boys… Alright. Keep trying. I will.”

“Not every day you witness a resurrection.”

“He’s a little shaken up.” Bobby looked at Dean. “He’s on his way back here and wants us to track down Caleb and Sammy in person. He doesn’t think either one of them will take to the phone calls as well as we did.”

Dean grinned. “You threatened to kill me.”

Bobby smiled. “Like I said, it’s been a rough couple of months."


It wasn’t hard to track them down. Dean called the phone company, conning them into turning on the GPS from Sam’s phone. The internet was a miraculous thing.

His brother and Caleb hadn’t made it to Texas, but were close to the border in the little town of De Valls Bluff, Arkansas. The Rest Inn they were staying in was on the sleepy side of town, one lonely convenience store stood to the left and a questionable looking Denny’s was a half-mile down the street. A twenty had gotten Dean the room number for two guys matching Caleb and Sam’s description. The Impala was parked in back, out of sight.

“You really think just going up and knocking on the door is such a good idea?”

Dean looked at Bobby and then to the door in front of them. “You want to go in and try to explain first?”

Bobby rubbed his neck. “Caleb throws one hell of a punch.”

“That’s what I thought.” Dean knocked on the door. He and Bobby drove through the night, so it was early, the sun casting a pink glow, but still hiding behind the purple hued landscape. Dean expected his brother and Caleb to be asleep. The menacing voice behind the door said he was wrong.

“What the hell are you doing here, Bobby?”

Bobby turned very slowly. Dean was still hidden in the shadows of the overhang.

“Nice to see you too, Junior.”

Caleb didn’t even look his way as he lowered his gun, his face remaining grim. In the light of the street lamp, Dean recognized his friend’s running get-up, knew Caleb’s routine well enough to expect the take out bag Damien was holding in his right hand. “If Mac sent you…”

“Mac didn’t send us.” Dean stepped forward. Caleb’s gaze whipped to him and Damien brought the gun up, pointing it directly at Dean’s head.

“What the…”

“Caleb...” Bobby started but Dean interrupted.

“It’s me, Damien.” Dean grinned. The look on Caleb’s face was one Dean couldn’t describe. Sam, Dean, Caleb, most hunters in general were immune to seeing the unexpected. So when something broke through the barriers it rocked a guy to his core. “Search your feelings Obi wan, you’ll know it’s true.”

Caleb dropped the Denny’s bag. Dean heard the crunch of Styrofoam and knew any chance at a hot coffee was out. “That’s not possible…”

Dean ignored the gun still pointed at him and took another step towards his friend. Dean was confused. Caleb and Sam should be expecting his arrival since they were the ones who brought him back. “One of the first rules in The Hunter’s Handbook, anything is possible.”

“It’s really him, Kid. I’ve done all the tests,” Bobby said.

Caleb tilted his head and Dean felt the instant his friend accessed his thoughts on a deeper level. Dean had never been consciously aware of the act. Having Damien in his head was sort of like wearing a ring for so long you forgot it was there on your finger, only aware of its presence after it was gone. Now the presence seemed uncomfortable as if Caleb was out of practice. Dean fought the urge to physically step away.

He didn’t miss the irony when Caleb looked at Dean’s right hand and then to his own where his silver band rested. Damien lowered the gun. “Deuce.”


Nothing about the embrace was unfamiliar or hesitant. Caleb’s arms came around him in a rib-crushing hug. “You’re alive.”

Dean hugged him back. “Either that, or I feel really good for a dead guy.”

Caleb pulled back, but kept a firm hold of his shoulders. He searched Dean’s face. “But how…I don’t understand.”

Dean gave him a shaky grin. “I thought you and Sammy could explain.”

“Me and…Shit. Sam. He’s in the shower.” Caleb looked to the door and then to Dean. Damien kept one hand latched on Dean as if his friend might disappear. “He’s not going to fucking believe this.”

Dean looked at Bobby, then raised a brow at his best friend. “You sure about that, Damien?”

Caleb didn’t have a chance to answer him as the door behind them swung open. “Caleb? What are you doing out here? Bobby? What’s going on?”

Dean’s back was to his brother, but relief flooded through Dean at the sound of Sam’s voice. Having Mackland and Bobby reassure him that Sam was alive and having tangible proof were two entirely different things. He couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he turned to face Sam.

“Heya, Sammy.” He started forward, but Sam moved quicker, lashing out with Ruby’s knife.

Bobby grabbed Sam as Caleb bunched his fist in Dean’s jacket and jerked him back out of his brother’s reach. “Who are you?” Sam yelled.

“Like you didn’t do this?” Dean yelled back, trying to free himself from Caleb’s hold.

“Do what?”

“It’s him, it’s him, Sam,” Bobby said, still holding Sam back. “I’ve been through this already. It’s really him.”

“Read him, Sam.” Caleb let Dean go. “Search for his resonance, like back at the church.”

Dean didn’t know what Caleb was talking about, but the connection he shared with his brother suddenly thrummed with energy. Sam blinked. “What…”

“I know,” Dean said. “I look fucking fantastic, huh?”

Sam pulled him into a hug, gripping the back of his jacket. Dean could feel Sam shaking and held on tighter. “It’s okay, little brother.” Dean closed his eyes, finally letting the truth set in. He was back. He was safe. Now everything seemed real. Caleb closed the door and Dean let his gaze stray from his brother to his best friend. “So what did it cost?”

“The breakfast you ruined?” Caleb smirked. “Why? You going to pay me back?”

“That’s not funny, Damien,” Dean said. “What did it cost you two to bring me back? Was it your soul or something worse?”

“You think we made a deal?” Sam said.

“That’s exactly what we think,” Bobby said.

Sam shook his head. “Well, we didn’t.”

Dean stared at his brother. Sam’s eyes shifted slightly to the left when he wasn’t telling the truth. “Don’t lie to me.”

“He’s not lying,” Caleb said.

Dean cut his gaze to Caleb. “So what now? I’m off the hook and you two are on? Is that it?” He shifted his scrutiny to his brother once more. “I didn’t want to be saved like this.”

“Dean, I wish I had done it, alright?”

Dean felt a wave of fury at his brother’s confession. He grabbed the front of Sam’s shirt. “There’s no other way this could’ve gone down. Now tell the truth!”

Caleb tried to step between the brothers. “We tried everything, Deuce. That’s the fucking truth.”

Sam pushed Dean off him. “We tried opening the Devil’s Gate.” Sam glanced at Caleb, then to Dean. “We even tried to bargain, Dean, but no demon would deal with us, alright? You were rotting in Hell for months and we couldn’t stop it.”

“You could have gone on without me.” Dean’s anger rose white hot. The intensity of his emotions was unexpected and felt momentarily out of his control. He turned on Caleb. “You could have finished what Jim started by talking to Elijah like I asked.”

“Deuce, we were on our way to do that.”

Dean wasn’t assuaged. He felt as if he were suddenly watching himself from a great distance as he poked a finger in his best friend’s chest. “What the hell have you been doing for the last four months, Caleb?”

“What?” Caleb stepped back, bumping into Sam. “What the hell do you think I’ve been doing?”

“Not your job, obviously,” Dean said. He wanted to stop, take a deep breath, quit sounding and acting like John Winchester, but the fury was stronger. He shoved Caleb. “Because showcasing your bad boy side and dragging Sammy through the mud with you does not fall under the Knight’s description. Did you forget every fucking thing Dad taught you?”

Caleb caught Dean with a hard left hook, then a right cross. Dean barely heard Caleb’s voice through the ringing in his ears. “Didn’t forget that, you son of a bitch.”

The force of the blows had him stumbling, the shock of the pain grounding him. He straightened, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, tasting blood. Caleb hit him. Dean wasn’t sure who was more surprised him or Damien.

Sam was holding Caleb back although from the look on the older hunter’s face all the fight had evaporated. Horror at what he had done flashed through Damien’s gold eyes, and that sobered Dean more than the actual punches.

“It’s okay, Sammy.” Dean took a shaky breath, releasing it slowly. “Let him go.”

Caleb jerked free, taking a step towards Dean. “Goddamnit, Deuce. I did the best I could. We both did.”

“You don’t have to apologize, I believe you.” Dean was sure he needed to say he was sorry, but the adrenaline rush that insisted he strike out in retaliation was dominating most of his reserves. He clenched his fists and gave his friend a tight nod.

Bobby broke the silence. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Sam’s and Caleb’s souls are still intact, and that the boyish bloodshed is back, but it does raise a sticky question.”

Dean sighed, running a hand over his throbbing jaw. “If the dynamic duo didn’t pull me out, then what did?”

“And why?” Bobby added.

“Who cares? You’re back, that’s the most important part.” Caleb looked at him. “Even if you are an even bigger pain in my ass.”

“Speaking of that.” Bobby stood, eyeing Dean critically. “How are you feeling?”

Dean shrugged. “A little hungry.” He smirked at Caleb. “And my face hurts like a sonofabitch.”

Bobby smacked him on the back of the head. “No, I mean…do you feel like yourself?” He gestured to Dean’s head. “Anything strange, or different?”

“Or demonic?” Dean snorted. “Bobby, how many times do I have to prove I’m me?”

“You did seem a little off…” Sam started. “You sounded like Dad.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“He doesn’t feel different,” Caleb said. He rubbed his left knuckles. “I mean aside from the bad attitude, there’s no trace of evil presence and the water’s back. That has to be a good sign.”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “My head full of water. That’s always great.”

“Yeah, well, listen,” Bobby started. “No demon’s letting you loose out of the goodness of their heart.” The mechanic looked from Dean to Sam. “So they gotta have something nasty planned.”

“Like Damien said, I ‘feel’ fine, both inside and out.”

“Look we don’t know what they’re planning,” Sam said. “But we’ve got a pile of questions and no shovel. We need help on this one.”

Bobby scratched his chin. I know a psychic. Few hours from here.”

“You have a psychic right here,” Caleb said. “Two for that matter.” Dean didn’t miss the way Caleb shot him a quick glance. “Unless you’re suddenly having doubts, too.”

“Pam is a medium,” Bobby said. “Something this big, maybe she’s heard the other side talking. So unless you’ve suddenly tuned into the all occult channel, Junior, I say I give her a ring and you get your undies out of a wad.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Dean said. He didn’t like the idea of going to an outsider, but he needed to know the truth. “But make it for tomorrow. I have something I need to do first.”

Dean watched Bobby head for the door. “Be right back.”

“What are you planning to do?” Caleb asked.

“I’m going to see Griffin Porter.”

“What?” Sam moved closer to him. “Why?”

“Because your brother thinks we’ve made a fucking mess of things,” Caleb said. “I say fuck Porter. Who gives a shit about him?”

“I do,” Dean said. “It’s time I set some things straight once and for all. I couldn’t do it before, not with the deal hanging over me…but now I have an opportunity to do what Jim planned for me.” Dean would ensure The Brotherhood was on the right track. He didn’t know how long it would take to clear up the mess of his surprise parole, but Dean wouldn’t be able to focus on it without knowing his obligation to Jim was taken care of.

“You’re worried this is temporary,” Caleb said. “You think you’re going to end up back in the pit.”

“I don’t know what to think!” Dean snapped. He wasn’t sure if Damien was reading him or just knew him too damn well. “All I know is that I have this moment, a second chance, and I’m going to use it like I promised I would.”

“We’ll come with you,” Sam offered.

“No.” Dean shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. Go back to the farm. I’ll meet you there.” He smirked at Caleb. “Stop for a haircut and a shave on the way.

“You really think we’ve screwed up that bad?”

Dean stepped forward, gripping Caleb’s forearm. “Damn it, Damien. Don’t fight me on this.” He didn’t like the idea of leaving Sam and Caleb after their brief, albeit bumpy reunion, but he needed to take care of this on his own. You only got one chance to set a precedent. Dean was about to mark his reign. Caleb wasn’t about to make it easy for him. “Forgive me if I’m a little nervous about letting you walk out that door by yourself.”

“We just got you back,” Sam added. “What if…”

“This isn’t up for discussion.” Dean cut them off. “I’m giving you both an order.”

Caleb pulled away. “Maybe Bobby’s right. You are possessed.”

“No.” Dean looked from Caleb to Sam. “This is all me.”

“You’re not going alone,” Caleb said. He folded his arms over his chest. “No way.”

“You’re right. I’m not going alone,” Dean met his friend’s gaze. “Is Josh still kicking?”


Chapter 3

"I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings." - Elie Wiesel

“We should have followed him.”

Sam stuffed the last of his clothes in his duffle and glanced up at the other hunter. Caleb was standing by the door, his cell phone in hand. “Dude, Bobby wouldn’t have gone for that and Dean took the Impala.”

Caleb pulled the curtains aside and looked out the window. “Bobby’s still on the phone. We can go out the bathroom window and I’ll buy us a fucking car.” He crossed the room to stand in front of Sam. “Better yet, we’ll fly to Atlanta. I’ll rent a plane.”

Sam understood Caleb’s impatience. He hadn’t wanted Dean to go either. “Dean needs to do this on his own.”

“Just like he needed to face the hell hounds on his own?” Caleb said. “Look how well that turned out.”

Sam’s stomach clenched with guilt of the memory of watching Dean drifting away in Jim’s boat. “Nothing we could have done would have stopped that from happening.” Having Dean back didn’t erase the doubt Sam carried.

Caleb sat on the bed with a heavy sigh. “I know.” He looked up at Sam. “It doesn’t make it any easier to accept.”

Sam zipped his duffel and tossed it on the other bed before sitting next to Caleb. “I can’t believe he’s back.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I mean…it seems like some bizarre dream.”

“A dream I’m going to wake up from any minute now.”

Sam felt Caleb’s unease and fear. It mirrored his own. If things appeared to be too good to be true, they often were. “That’s not going to happen.”

“We don’t know how he got back.” Caleb ran a finger over his ring. “Everything we tried, every demon we wanted to deal with told us it was impossible, Sammy. How the hell did this happen?”

Caleb’s concerns were legitimate. Ruby had been the only one to give Sam hope in secrecy. She promised his abilities were a way out for Dean. Sam had embraced his fate, holding onto to the thread of his brother. “It had to be something incredibly powerful.” He would call Ruby the first chance he got. If the psychic didn’t work out, maybe Ruby could find out what was going on.

“Something more powerful than Lilith?”

“Nothing would surprise me anymore.” Sam clenched his fists. “But I’m still killing that bitch.”

“Not alone you’re not.” Caleb gave him a stern look. “No lone ranger stuff, we made a deal to work as a team.”

A deal Sam had broken when he began his training with Ruby. “Are you going to tell Dean about the things we did?”

“I doubt if we’ll have to fill him in on the big stuff. Hunters talk.”

“Some of the lines we crossed…” It wasn't just Sam joining with Ruby but everything they had done up to this point. Revenge felt good, liberating. The hunt had become something different since Dean’s death. Rules blurred. Sam wasn’t sure if it was a natural progression or a small hint of what everyone feared about them.

“Most of what we did was justified.” Caleb might deny it, but Sam was all too aware of the other psychic’s doubts. “We used the resources we were given to try and take back what was ours. As Johnny would say, all’s fair in baseball and war.”

Sam raised a brow. “I promised Dean I wouldn’t work to further my abilities.” He knew Caleb wasn’t aware of just how far Sam had expanded his talents, but the other psychic had helped him train, too.

“Your abilities are a part of who you are,” Caleb said.

“The demonic part.” His abilities were directly related to the Yellow Eyed Demon, and he was always checking for the telltale yellow eyes. A sign he had gone too far. Of course there was always the other alternative where no such tell-tale evidence would exist. Sam feared the changes would be subtle, like fog slowly making its way ashore. He’d never know he was lost, until it was too late to find his way.

“Jim told me once that it didn’t matter where I got the mojo as long as I used it for the right side.”

Sam wanted to believe that. He needed to believe he could use what had been done to him to right some of the wrongs to his family. “Should I tell Dean about the Yellow Eyed Demon’s blood?” It wasn’t the only thing Sam was hiding, but he considered it a big secret for Dean.

“Dude, I can’t answer that question for you, but we both know lies have a way of coming back and biting us in the ass.” Caleb bumped his arm. “I can tell you that nothing you do will stop Dean from loving you. You’re his little brother. That won’t ever change.”

“You really believe that?” Because Dean was adamant about not using his abilities, and it would be difficult for his brother to accept now that he had a direct connection to evil.

“He might be pissed, even knock you on your ass,” Caleb flexed his fist. “But it won’t change how he feels. Trust me.”

Sam would hold onto that hope. Now that Dean was back, anything was possible. A small smile broke through his worries. “He really came back, Caleb. Dean’s alive.”

“And we just let him leave!” Caleb gestured to the door. “What the hell were we thinking?”

Sam’s mouth twitched. “Dean didn’t exactly give us a choice. In fact, he gave us an order to go back to the farm.”

“Fucking order.” Caleb punched his fists into the mattress. “Since when does he get to tell us what to do?”

Sam stood, grabbing his duffle from the other bed. “He’s always told me what to do.” Dean wasn’t the only one who thought he could boss Sam around. Watching Caleb get a taste of his own medicine had its high points. “Get used to it, man.”

Caleb grumbled, getting to his feet. “I don’t remember Jim telling Johnny what to do.”

“I don’t think Dean’s going to be as subtle as Jim.” Sam checked the room for anything they might have left, facing Caleb once more. He raised a brow. “You know Elijah would have been much easier to deal with.”

Caleb grabbed his own bag, tossing it over his shoulder. “I’m not getting a haircut or a shave.” He started for the door, still muttering under his breath. “Fucking Joshua.”

Sam took one final look around the messy room, feeling the familiar pull of home for the first time in four months.


“Take a picture, Mama’s Boy. It will last longer.” Dean glanced at his passenger as he gunned the Impala’s engine a little harder. Sam might have defiled his baby with the I-pod contraption, but at least his brother kept the Chevy running and in one beautiful piece. Dean missed her.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua said. He continued to stare at Dean with a look of awe. “It’s just…it’s all quite remarkable.”

“Yeah.” Dean gave him a half-assed grin before returning his gaze to the road. “Women have been saying that about this package for years.” Joshua had been relatively quiet since Dean picked him up at the Atlanta airport. The silence was both awkward and uncomfortable, so Dean welcomed some semblance of their typical exchange.

Joshua snorted. “It really is you, isn’t it?”

“You had doubts?” Dean felt some of the tension leave his shoulders as Joshua finally turned his gaze to the passing scenery.

“I have to say Mackland’s call was unexpected. When he told me that the recently departed Dean Winchester was requesting my presence, I thought the pressure might have finally driven The Scholar over the edge.” He looked at Dean again. “It’s good to know The Brotherhood isn’t being run by a raving lunatic.”

Dean shot him a curious look. “That your very Josh way of saying you’re glad I’m back?”

“Yes.” Joshua inclined his head. “I’m glad you’re alive.”

“Ditto,” Dean said. He meant it. Dean might have been more focused on his own imminent demise, but he felt like shit knowing Joshua was more than likely going out because of a decision Dean made. “Bobby said you had a rough row to hoe for a full recovery?”

Joshua shifted in the seat. “I’d wager my infirmary was nothing compared to what you’ve endured.”

Dean strummed his fingers on the steering wheel, attempting to keep his heart rate from accelerating. “I don’t know. I hear it was touch and go for a while. You were down for a couple of months. I don’t really remember what happened to me.” Dean didn’t want to remember. Maybe if he stuck with that story, the small flashes and the phantom feelings from his time in Hell would stop bleeding into his consciousness.

“Still…” Joshua rearranged his lanky body again, smoothing invisible wrinkles from his sports coat. “I merely underwent surgery, recuperated for a couple of weeks under the care of a topnotch medical team, and then was confined to my condo for the rest of my convalescence. There I was smothered by the unwavering good intentions of three lovely women for thirteen days, twenty one hours and fifteen minutes.”

Dean snorted. “That bad, huh?”

“Horrible,” Joshua replied, with an uncharacteristic laugh. “Honestly, I thought I might finish myself off before Carolyn convinced my mother and grandmother to leave.”

Dean arched a brow. He was getting an unprecedented glimpse of Joshua’s life. “Carolyn took on Esme and Jocelyn?” The Madrigal women were forces to be reckoned with.

“It would seem Carolyn has many hidden talents, diplomacy being one of them.”

Dean smiled as Joshua fidgeted yet again. “Maybe you should marry that girl, Josh.”

That prompted the other hunter to dig into his familiar messenger bag. “Maybe you should fill me in on why my very important business meeting was interrupted by an impromptu summons from the lead singer of Chevrolet Sucks?”

Dean admired the re-direct, although it was far from subtle. At least some things hadn’t changed. “You’re The Advisor.”

“The Guardian-elect needs consulting?”

“The Guardian-elect wanted company.”

Joshua turned so he was angled towards Dean. “What about The Knight or Scholar? Considering their reaction to your earlier demise, I’m very surprised they are not glued to your side.”

Dean tightened his grip on the Impala’s steering wheel, his gaze going to the cell phone lying on the seat. He fought back the urge to call Caleb and Sam again. They were on the road, and would let him know when they reached the farm. Neither his brother nor his best friend was happy with his decision to drive to Atlanta alone to meet Sawyer. “This is something I needed to do without them.”

“That either means you’re concerned for their safety or you believe their actions of late will only complicate matters.”

“A little of both I guess.” It was true. Dean didn’t know how the meeting with Griffin would go down, but he didn’t want any distractions. He needed to be on top of his game. “I also don’t know what to make of the Triad trap Rose used against us. Until we know for sure what can be used against us and how to counter it, I’d rather us not jump head first into the pool.”

“Carolyn and Riley have been doing some research for Mackland on the subject of traditional Triads since…well, since you went away. They’ve been unsuccessful concerning the power that Rose spoke of, but I’m sure something will turn up. Carolyn is persistent.”

Dean couldn’t help himself. “Enthusiastic, too. Right?”

Joshua sighed. “I think you’re wise to be more cautious.”

“Sammy and Caleb don’t see it that way. They were pissed about this.”

“And this is?”

“An armistice.” Dean grinned. “Possibly an assassination.”


Dean began paying more attention to the streets they were on, the impressive Atlanta mansions they were passing. “Depends on how diplomatic I’m feeling when we finally arrive at Griffin’s estate.”

“I see.” Joshua looked out the window for a moment. “You do realize he won’t be alone, especially if Mackland called ahead to arrange this tête-à-tête.”

“I didn’t expect a one on one with Porter. I’m counting on Silas and Harland being there, at least.” Dean found the intersection before casting a quick glance to Joshua. “You going to be alright with that?”

“I haven’t spoken to my father but once since Gideon’s funeral.” Joshua fingered the folder he had removed from his bag. “Harland called several weeks after I was home from the hospital and I hung up on him."

"Why?" Dean was shocked Harland had waited that long to contact his son.

"He congratulated me for connecting with Carolyn, since she was from a long line of hunters, even if she was Ian Hastings’s sloppy seconds.” Joshua held up the file. “This is a record of Harland’s activity over the last couple of months-meetings, hunts and his cell phone records. It makes interesting reading. My father has been spending a good deal of time in Texas.”

Dean slowed the Impala, having reached the correct street. He cocked a brow at Joshua, waiting for a car to pass before making his turn. “Watching Elijah?”

Joshua nodded. “Why else would he be there? Silas has been keeping a close eye on Caleb and Sam.”

“You don’t think…” Dean didn’t have to stretch too far to consider the prospect that Griffin might have been planning an assassination of his own. “That sonofabitch.”

“I don’t know what the plans were,” Joshua said. “But I wanted to prevent more harm to The Brotherhood.”

“You had them tailed to protect Sam and Caleb?”

Joshua gripped the folder. “Jim expected certain things of me and I didn’t always live up to his standards. I might have been negligent in my duty in the past, but when I accepted my ring from you in North Carolina, I took that as another opportunity to start again.”

Dean didn’t know what to say. “Tell me you didn’t you use another hunter to do the job?”

Joshua looked affronted. “Don’t be ridiculous. I have other contacts besides the Brotherhood related ones.”

“What?” Dean grinned, hoping to smooth over his fumble. “Using Drew as your own private dick?”

Joshua shot him a disdainful glower. “It is that tasteless humor I haven’t missed over the last four months.”

“Then the coven?”

Joshua picked at the imaginary lint on his slacks. “An associate, yes.”

“Walking tree? Bodyguard Guy?”

“Rest assured I would never blur lines between my duties to the coven and my duty to you,” Joshua said. “This situation called for utmost discretion, which I can guarantee was maintained.”

Dean pulled the Impala to the curve, adjacent to the address Mackland had given him. Dean wasn’t blind to the fine line Joshua would always walk between two worlds. It was a position Dean had inadvertently put the man in. “Not all situations will always be so clear.”

“You doubt I can carry out my duty?” Joshua gestured to Griffin’s mansion. “Is this some sort of test?”

“No. No more tests.” Dean licked his lips. “You’re here because of your position with the future Triad. But you know there’s going to be times when your job with us might conflict with the coven. I’ll keep you out of the loop when I think that’s the case.”

“I’ll try not to take offense.”

“Wouldn’t Esme be proud of us?” Dean pulled the car up to the gate. “This road trip is so much nicer than the last time you co-piloted a gig.”

Joshua gestured to the intercom situated near one the large brick pillars on either side of the gate. “What exactly did Mackland tell Griffin?”

Dean shrugged. “That there were some issues that needed to be discussed immediately.”

“And did he mention with whom Griffin would be discussing those issues?”

Dean reached out and pressed the intercom. “I’m sure Griffin assumed The Scholar would be attending and Mac told him you would be coming.” Dean looked at Joshua. “But I told Mac not to ruin the big surprise.”

Joshua rolled his eyes. “Wonderful.”


The voice was familiar, might have been that of Silas Fox. It was hard to be certain over the speaker. Dean nudged Joshua, who leaned forward towards Dean’s window. “Joshua Sawyer and company. I believe Griffin is expecting us.”

There was a brief silence, then the gates opened allowing them access to the long circle drive to the mansion. Dean raised a brow. “You ready for this?”

“As long as you don’t expect me to run a marathon or perform any spectacular feats of strength, I should be fine.”

Dean’s smile faded slightly as he regarded Joshua. “I’m not worried about your health, Josh.”

Joshua gave him a tight nod. “I’m good.”

Dean put the car in drive, pulling forward. He cut his eyes to Joshua. “Dying sure has a way of changing people, huh?”

“It definitely gives one a new perspective.”

“So, we’re good?”

Joshua looked up, meeting his gaze. “As long as the last minute summons remain at a minimum. Advisor does not imply you can monopolize my valuable time at a whim.”

Dean snorted. “So, no midnight calls for a beer run?”


“Don’t worry.” Dean stopped in the shadows away from the lights of the estate and opened his door, getting out. “I really don’t want to tangle with Carolyn.”

Joshua followed his lead. “I believe Alison will be the one you should watch out for. I fear once she finds out you’ve returned, you’ll be inundated with calls and memos about her on-going crusade to enlighten the misogynistic regime of The Brotherhood on their archaic good old boy practices.”

Dean made his way to the back of the Impala, opening the trunk. He lifted the false lid to allow access to the weapons. Sam in all his anal retention had compartmentalizated, even added a touch light. He grabbed his extra gun, offering it to Joshua. “Maybe I can work out an arrangement with your wonder assistant Drew.”

Joshua took the gun, checking the safety. “You’re in need of a private dick?”

Dean frowned. “What was that about my tasteless humor?”

“I’ve often wondered if it wears off on the people around you after a prolonged exposure? That would explain Caleb and Sam.”

“Yeah.” Dean picked up the large roll of industrial plastic he’d stopped at Lowe's to purchase and shoved it into Joshua’s free arm. “I’m the bad influence.” He added two rolls of Duct tape to his pocket.

Joshua looked down at the bundle, then back to Dean. “Please tell me your brilliant plan includes promises of winterizing Griffin’s home?”

Dean removed his gun from his shoulder holster before slamming the trunk. “On the Godfather movies they always use those fancy oriental rugs, but trust me, stuff seeps right through.” Dean patted the Impala’s roof as he walked by. “Blood is a bitch to get off the interior.”

“Of course.” Joshua hurried to catch up. “We wouldn’t want to desecrate the sanctity of your car.”

“Exactly.” Dean made his way up the steps to the front door before facing Joshua. “I’m liking this new you more and more.” He raised his gun and pointed it towards the door. “You want to do the honors?”

Joshua shifted his load and rang the doorbell. Silas answered immediately and Dean greeted the older hunter with a swift punch that put Silas on his ass.

“Is Griffin home?” Dean loomed over Silas, his gun pointed at the downed man’s chest. “The Guardian needs to chat.”

“Silas?” Harland appeared in the hallway. “What the hell is going on…” His hand moved quickly to his side when he saw Dean, but Joshua was faster.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Joshua stepped around Dean and Silas, who was slowly pushing himself off the floor. “I believe Griffin is expecting us.”

“I was expecting Mackland.”

Dean stepped back, motioning for Silas to stand as he shifted his gun to cover Griffin who had entered the foyer. To Porter’s credit he didn’t seem surprised or shaken by Dean’s presence, rather amused. “You know what they say about assuming,” Dean said.

“It seems the reports of your untimely demise have been rather exaggerated, Dean Winchester.”

“No. They were dead on.” Dean shrugged. He gave Griffin a closer look. The man had aged since Wyoming. “I died a horrifying bloody death.”

Griffin clasped his hands in front of him. “What brings you back, Son?”

“That’s the million dollar question of the day.”

“Your brother and that half-breed finally get one of their kind to spring you from Hell?” Harland said. “We know what they’ve been up to.”

“Sam and Caleb had nothing to do with this.” Dean looked at Porter. “Maybe I clawed my way out of the pit to come back for you.”

“I’ve been in my own private hell for quite some time and if that was on your agenda I doubt Mackland would have bothered calling ahead, nor would you have brought Joshua as a witness.”

Joshua dropped his package. “He needed someone to carry the plastic.”

“You’re a henchman now?”

“Joshua is here on behalf of The Triad. You remember The Triad, right? The governing body of The Brotherhood? I think you swore allegiance when you accepted those silver rings you’re all wearing.”

“You’re here to make it official?”

“You are a smart man.”

Griffin gestured to a room off the foyer. “Perhaps we should toast the occasion.”

Dean shook his head. “We’re not going to be here that long.”

Griffin looked at the plastic. “Then you’re here to tie up loose ends?”

“That’s one way to look at it.”

“You’re going to murder us?” Harland turned on Joshua. “You're willing to let this abomination kill your father?”

“Concern for each other’s welfare has never been a strong point in our relationship.”

“I’m giving you a choice, Griffin. You either cut the psychotic jilted ex routine and join in with us, or I cut you loose for good. We’re at war. I’m not having any unexploded landmines in my backyard.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“For starters, you’re in The Brotherhood again.”

Griffin started to open his mouth, but Dean cut him off. “And don’t say that you are a longstanding member because we both know that ring on your finger is a fake.” Dean waggled his hand. “I can tell it’s not the one Jim gave you.”

Griffin clenched his fist. “James let his emotions get in the way of his decisions.”

“Yeah, and it saved your life.”

“What I did in the past I did for the good of The Brotherhood.”

“What you did got Jarrett killed, Gideon murdered.” Dean glanced to Silas, then back to Porter. “You want that same fate for the few people you got left.”

“You really intend to eliminate me and my associates in cold blood?”

“Josh did lug that plastic all the way in from the car.”

"James would never allow this."

Pastor Jim had his reasons for allowing Griffin to continue on- Ethan, Elijah and Gideon. That time had passed, and he knew for certain Jim would do exactly the same, without the Godfather references. Dean lowered his weapon. "Look, I’m giving you a chance to do the right thing for once in your miserable life. Show me you’re half the hunter that Jim once thought you were, the kind of man Gideon and Ethan believed you to be.”

Porter licked his lips. “And if I accept this… all is forgiven?”

“Let’s just say I have a new appreciation for second chances.” Dean narrowed his eyes. “But don’t make this decision lightly because understand this, if I get word that you’re even considering going against me, if you even look sideways at Caleb or Sam, I will revoke your membership privileges permanently and it will not be in the swift manner that I am promising you now. No more threats to what’s mine. Understood?”

“Don’t do it, Griffin!”

“For God’s sake keep your mouth shut, Harland,” Griffin snapped. He returned his gaze to Dean. “I will accept your offer, Dean.” He slid the silver ring from his finger, offering it to Dean. “You’re right. This was my father’s ring. He was a good man, a credit to The Brotherhood.”

“Keep it. It’s yours now.” There was nothing wrong with keeping a connection to one's father. Dean had the leather jacket and the Impala to keep the memory alive for him.

Griffin nodded, returning the ring to his hand. “It’s time old wounds were healed and The Brotherhood restored to the greatness it once knew.”


“I feel the same.” He extended a hand to Dean. “I want to be counted in your guard.”

Dean shook Silas’s hand before turning to Harland. “The only thing keeping me from putting a bullet in your brain is the fact your Josh’s father. You should think about that.”

He turned to Griffin. “He’s your responsibility.”

“He won’t be a problem.”

Dean started for the door. “Josh.”

Harland reached out and grabbed his son’s arm. “Joshua?”

“Understand this.” Joshua shook off his father’s grip. “The Guardian may have spared your life as a courtesy to me, but I don’t owe you any such service. You’re dead to me.”

Dean waited for Joshua then closed the door behind them. “I’d say that went well.”

Joshua shifted the plastic, and Dean gave him a moment to compose himself. “You believe Griffin will follow through with his promise?”

“If not, then I’ll follow through with mine.”

Joshua returned the spare gun to Dean. “If that occurs I’d rather you have Caleb bring the plastic if you don’t mind.”

“Mama’s Boy doesn’t want to get his hands dirty after all?” Dean elbowed the blond hunter before descending the stairs.

“The suit, actually.” Joshua smoothed his jacket before following behind Dean. “If you think blood stains are hard to remove from leather, imagine what it does to Armani.”

“I’m sure it’s a bitch.” Dean hesitated before opening his door. “Look, man about your dad…”

Joshua met his gaze over the roof of the Impala. “He’s had his share of second chances.”

“Okay.” Dean could understand that also. He slid behind the wheel and waited for Joshua to get in. “You hungry?”

“Only if the meal your offering isn’t wrapped in colorful wax paper, served in a brown bag, or brought to us by some gum-chewing tart named Judith at The Greasy Spoon Diner.”

Dean started the Impala. “That your ‘Josh’ way of offering to treat?”

“Yes, I’ll pay.” Joshua leaned back in his seat. “But just so you know, I’m writing it off as a business expense.”

Dean laughed. “Of course you are.”


Mac was waiting on Dean when he arrived at the farm. “My God it’s good to see you.” The doctor squeezed him hard, releasing him for only a moment to look him over for injuries before pulling him in for another embrace. “I thought you were lost to us.”

“I’m okay, Mac.” Dean’s eyes began to sting and he cursed his voice for betraying him. He blamed it on the emotional rollercoaster ride of the last twenty-four hours. “Where’s Sammy and Damien?

“Exactly where you should be- in bed, asleep.” Mac pulled away, giving him the more familiar physician once over. “You look exhausted.”

“No. I’m good.” He didn't want to fall asleep, fearful of waking up and finding that this was all a dream.

“Robert said you had no trace of your past injuries, but your hands...” Mackland ran his fingers over the cuts and bruises on Dean’s knuckles.

“No one thought to toss a couple of tools in the box with me before nailing it shut?”

“You’re lucky there appear to be no fractures.” Mackland’s disapproving look said how the doctor felt about Dean’s off color humor. “Have there been any other symptoms? Any odd aches or pains? Headaches?”

“I don’t know, Doc.” Dean laughed, pulling away from Mackland’s probe of his cranium. “Can you catch something from being in Hell?”

Mackland’s smile was forced and Dean worried the unshakeable doctor might break as he laid a strong hand along Dean’s neck. Mac’s gray eyes shimmered. “One never knows. We’ve never dealt with anything like this.” Mac cleared his throat, gestured to his medical bag sitting on Jim’s old recliner. “Would you humor an old saw bones?”

“Why not?” Dean took a seat on the couch, knowing Mackland wouldn’t give in until he conceded. The doctor needed proof that Dean was alright, and Dean was willing to do almost anything to take the anguished look from Mac’s face. “You're imagining the journal articles you could score if you fixed me, aren’t you?”

Mac opened his medical kit, removing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. “Is there something in need of fixing?”

Dean hissed when the cold metal touched his chest. Nothing Mac could cure with a band aid. “No. I feel better than I have in years.”

Mackland raised a brow as he shifted the stethoscope to Dean’s back. “Take a couple of deep breaths.” Dean did as he asked, feeling all of ten again, as Mackland checked his mouth, eyes, ears, before testing his reflexes. “What happened to your face?”

Dean winced as Mackland touched the bruise on his cheek. “Your son punched me.”

Mackland dropped his hand. “I see.”

Dean didn’t understand the look of defeat that flooded Mac’s gray eyes. “Not that I wasn’t asking for it. I think I was channeling Dad.”

“Funny, but I have felt that same connection to your father during the last few months.” The doctor finished by searching Dean for scars, some of which were evidence of life-saving procedures Mackland himself had performed.

“It really is amazing.” Mackland rocked back on his heels. “Even the scar from the appendectomy I performed is gone, as well as the one from the surgery on your fibula. My stitching prowess is astounding, but not miraculous. Your body is a blank slate.”

“I’m a battle virgin,” Dean shook his head sadly. “How will I impress the chicks now?”

“I doubt if that will be a problem for you.” Mackland opened his bag, removing alcohol wipes. “You don’t recall what happened to your shoulder?”

Dean bit his lip. Mackland had inspected the freaky hand-print. “It was there when I climbed out of the grave.”

Mackland ran one of the wipes over his knuckles, coating them with antibiotic cream before starting on his other hand. “It looks almost like a healed burn, but the scar appears years old.”

“Can you get rid of it?”

Mackland stopped what he was doing and looked up. “I’m not sure. It would require some intricate skin graphs and a top notch plastic surgeon.”

Dean swallowed, feeling suddenly vulnerable. He wanted the thing gone-erased. “But you could make it happen, right?”

Mackland tossed the medicine back in his pack, taking the seat on the couch beside Dean. “If you want it gone, I’ll take care of it. Money won’t be an issue and I know a man for the job.”

Dean’s mouth twitched, the unflinching assurance in Mackland’s voice reminding him of Dad. “You talking about your buddy that keeps Dick Clark frozen in time?”

“Someone even better. You’ve probably seen his work in Play Boy.”

“Nice.” Dean looked down at his hands. “Thanks for the patch up.”

Mackland patted his knee. “Believe me, it feels good to actually be able to put you back on the mend.”

Dean met the doctor’s gaze, recalling what Bobby had told him about his state after the Hellhound attack. “You’ve always been damn good at your job.”

Mackland picked up his medical bag, adding the rest of the items he’d used. “I’m not so sure I’ve been excelling these last few months.” He glanced at Dean. “As you can probably tell, I let Caleb and Samuel fall apart.”

“I hate to break it to you, Saw Bones, but I doubt if there was enough gauze and tape in the world to keep that from happening.”

A faint smile crossed Mackland’s face. “A doctor is only as good as his medicine.”

“A very wise man once told me there was no instant cure for grief,” Dean said.

Mackland closed his bag. “Death has always been my most formidable enemy.”

“Definitely ranks on my list, too.” Dean tried for a smile. “But we won this round. I’m back and besides the brand, I’m better than new.”

Mackland sighed. “It would appear that way. I wouldn’t mind doing a cat scan, maybe an MRI…”

Dean raised his hands. “Let’s not borrow trouble, Doc. Your preliminary results are good enough for me.”

“What about the rest of it?”

Dean pursed his lips. “The rest of what?”

Mackland tapped his head, then moved his hand to touch the place right above Dean’s heart. “Body is only one third of the equation. Took the strict scientist in me a while, but I understand now that the mind and spirit actually have important roles.”

Dean clenched his fists. “Stop worrying, Mac.”

“I’ll never stop worrying about you boys.” Mackland turned, his knees bumping against Dean’s. “Sam told me you have no recollection of your time in Hell, and that’s a blessing. I’ve worked with people who have suffered severe trauma, and I understand the toll it can put on a person’s health. The mind has amazing defenses, but mostly they only work for a period of time, giving the person time to heal before they slowly begin to break down.”

Dean looked at the doctor. “I’m not a kid anymore. I’m not going to clam up and cut myself off from everyone.”

“I understand that this experience is unlike anything anyone could imagine, worse than what happened with your mother, but I think you should be aware that your mind could react in a very similar way. You should be prepared for unprovoked bursts of anger or violence, night terrors, flashbacks, a myriad of symptoms could…”

“So what?” Dean felt his irritation rising. “You want me to see one of your shrink buddies? I think it would be hard to explain my situation. Maybe I should take some of those meds you suggested to Sam when you thought I might freak out about my time running out.”

“If you wanted to see someone, we could tell them you’re just back from Iraq or Afghanistan. That you witnessed a heinous crime…”

“A heinous crime?” Dean laughed, running both his hands through his hair. He had seen misdeeds, alright. Up close and personal. If he tried hard enough, he could probably see the blood on his hands. . “No thanks, Doc.”

Mackland had proposed the same respite when he found out about the deal, offering to explain Dean’s unique dilemma off as a terminal illness. He knew Mac wanted to help, loved him for insisting, but Dean would never agree to any such recourse. “Just let me deal with this my own way. Please.”

“Only if you understand you don’t have to do any of this alone,” Mackland said. “You have a family who wants to help.”

Dean forced another smile. “I know that. But we have enough problems without adding my psyche to the mix just now.”

Mackland acquiesced for the time being. “How did the meeting with Griffin go?”

“He’s onboard.” Dean propped his hands on his hips. “Thanks for letting me deal with that situation in my own way, especially since there hasn’t been a changing of the guard.”

Mackland laid a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Dean, the guard changed when Jim died. I’m only here to help with the transition.”

“We need you, Mac.”

“And I’m not going anywhere.”

Dean raised a brow. “I know it’s not the best timing but could we spare you for a quick vacation to Madrid.”


“Josh said Esme is visiting . . .”

Mac squeezed Dean’s shoulder before removing his touch. “I appreciate that thought, but Esme is doing what she needs to for her family and I’m doing what I need to do for mine.”

“Still…” Dean said. “Some flowers and candy wouldn’t hurt. Not that I’ve ever had to romance anyone, but I hear tell that sappy shit works pretty well.”

Mackland laughed. “Now that you’re back, perhaps I’ll invest in some of those tactics.”

“Speaking of being back, I promised Sam and Caleb I’d tell them about my meeting with Griffin.”

”You do that. Then get some sleep. Doctor's orders.”

Dean wasn’t so sure sleep was what he needed, but he spent an hour sitting at Sam’s bedside watching his kid brother get some much needed Z’s. The steady rise and fall of Sam’s chest, the peaceful look on his face resonated deeply for Dean, who never thought he’d be granted anything so close to comfort again. He couldn’t stop his mind from going to another time when he sat by Sam’s side, his brother so still, void of breath, body gray and growing colder by the minute.

Dean reached out, chanced resting his hand on the side of Sam’s face. His brother’s skin was warm. Sam shifted, turning towards Dean’s touch but didn’t’ wake. “It was worth it, little brother.”

Dean was tempted to give into his own weariness after watching the ease at which his brother rested, but couldn’t imagine letting his guard down quite yet. He was afraid of what waited for him on the other side.

Dean ran his fingers over the charred metal box he was holding. He stood, crossing the floor to slip quietly into Caleb’s room.

Damien woke up as Dean neared his bed. “Deuce?” He sat up, blinking. “That really you?”

“What?” Dean took a seat on the edge of the mattress. “You think I’m a mirage?”

Caleb gestured to where Dean was sitting. “Not the first time in the last four months that I’ve dreamed you were sitting on my bed. Of course you look a whole hell of a lot better now than you did in full ‘I’ve just been shredded by a hell hound' wardrobe.”

Dean couldn’t stop the shiver that ran through him. He knew what it was like to watch a brother fall. He never meant for Sam or Caleb to suffer that same fate. “Yeah. I bet.”

“Shit.” Caleb leaned forward, his expression one of concern. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to sound…”

Dean forced a smile. “Dude, I’m flattered I replaced the infamous Heidi Klum dream.”

“Don’t be.” Caleb exhaled with a watery laugh. “Your death definitely put a damper on everything fun. I’ll be pissed at you for at least the next twenty years.”

Dean gestured to his face. “Are you going to hit me again?”

“You deserved that,” Caleb said. Dean wondered who Damien was trying to convince. “Granted I had lousy timing, doesn’t change you were definitely asking for it.”

“You’re right.” Dean didn’t need to be persuaded. Caleb should have thumped him a lot of times through the years. He only hated the guilt he knew Caleb would carry because of it. Dean vividly remembered the first time he hit Sam, Dad’s death pushing him over that invisible line between protector and red-blooded male. He licked his lips, trying to find the words to reset what had been done. “I know my dying sucked and I shouldn’t have expected you to keep it all together and carry on like the perfect soldier. I was way out of line earlier.”

“No.” Caleb ran a hand through his hair. “I had a job to do and I screwed it up. Johnny taught me not to let my emotions get in the way. He’d be disappointed.”

“I don’t think so,” Dean said. He lifted the lid of the box and took out Dad’s Corporal stripes. “In fact, I think he’d give you that promotion you’ve had coming.”

“Deuce…” Caleb shook his head, pressing against the headboard. “I can’t take those.”

“Yes, you can.” Dean shoved the chevrons towards his friend. “I want you to. You watched out for Sam and…”

“You don’t owe me anything for watching out for Sammy. We’re family. It’s what we do.”

“Dad was your family, too. He would want you to have them. You’ve earned them.” Dean reached out placed the Marine insignias in Caleb’s hand with a half-grin. “Besides, twenty years as a private and nothing to show for it is embarrassing.”

Caleb took the patches. “Thanks, man.”

“Now speaking of Dad…where the hell is his truck and what’s that thing in the driveway?”

“It’s a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640.”

“Really?” Dean shook his head. “You bought a Lamborghini.”

“Dude, you told me to put Johnny’s truck out to pasture and buy a car.”

That request you listen to?”

Caleb shrugged. “Watching the runt was a full time job.”

“I said buy A car, Damien. Not Batman’s car.” Bobby had told him that the beautiful car in the drive was from the summer Batman movie, which came out after Dean's death.

Caleb shrugged. “Sammy and I saw the movie. I thought you’d approve.”

“Because it’s a chick magnet or because Bruce Wayne’s vehicle is so inconspicuous for hunting?”

“It can go zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds and registers 220. That could pay off.”

“Can Sammy the Sasquatch even fit in the damn thing?” Dean had studied the car, going over its lines, peaking inside to see the dashboard. He wanted to drive it.

Caleb grinned. “We’ll only use it on special occasions and I’ll let you retrofit it for weapons.”

Dean folded his arms over his chest. “Fine. The Batmobile stays. On one condition…”

Caleb regarded him suspiciously. “Being?”

“You pull out the old art set and…”

“Dude,” Caleb flopped back on the bed. “Enough with the painting, you’re like a broken record…”

“Hold up.” Dean interrupted. “I’m not asking you to get in touch with your inner Renoir. I just want you to draw me something.”

Caleb rolled over, propping on his elbow. “You want me to draw you a picture?” He snorted. “Of what? A green dragon?”

Dean shook his head. “No. A phoenix.”

Caleb frowned. “Why?”

“It’s what rises from the ashes when a dragon dies.” Caleb told him the story after Conner took Sam. Dean had lost faith in his father, in everyone, but Caleb had given had given him hope. “Remember?”

“No. I mean, yes, I remember, but why the picture…”

“I thought after Sammy and I take care of this psychic thing with Bobby that you and I could take a trip down to Alabama, maybe catch a Tigers game, visit the Ink Spot while we’re there.” He had never forgotten the place Moose had taken him when he had run away from his father to Caleb. He treasured those memories. Dean wanted to make new memories.

Caleb sat up again. “You want a tattoo?”

Dean smiled. “I’ve got pretty much a clean pallet again and…”

“Wait.” Caleb held up a hand. “What do you mean after you and Sammy take care of the psychic thing?”

Dean sighed. “Look, Damien, until we figure this stuff out, I don’t think flaunting the complete Triad anywhere besides the farm is the smartest thing to do.”

“Did something happen at Griffin’s…”

“This isn’t about hunters.” Dean rested his elbows on his knees. “It’s about demons and what Rose said about them having their own secret books. The things they're capable of…”

“So, you want me to go my separate way?” He looked at Dad’s stripes. “Is this some other kind of goodbye?”

“No.” Dean was quick to erase the doubt he could see building in the gold gaze again. “Hell no. I’m just saying we have to be careful.”

Caleb met his gaze. “I can’t go through that again.”

“The only thing I’m asking you to do is to go to Texas.”


“Because I need you to talk to Elijah and Ethan. I don’t want them hearing I’m back from anyone else.” He also wanted them to know Griffin had a change of heart, and maybe the twins could mend that relationship. Dean nudged Caleb with his elbow. “So will you do it, Corporal?”

Caleb looked down at the patches. “The tattoo or the run to Texas?”


“I think I’m the man for both jobs.”

Dean elbowed him harder this time.. “You can take Mercielago, get there in no time.”

“True.” Caleb grinned, rubbing his side. “Ethan hasn’t seen her.”

Dean raised a brow. “Her?”


Dean laughed. “Idiot.”

“You’re back?” Sam stumbled into the room, bleary-eyed and rumpled. "What are you two talking about?"

“Uh oh, we’ve woken your sidekick, the Boy Wonder.” Sam's hair was sticking up in different directions. They both needed haircuts.

"He's jealous I'm getting some Dean-time without him."

"Shut up, dick head. You’re the one who bitched all the way here about Joshua getting to go to Griffin’s.”

“You jealous of Josh, Damien?”

Caleb scowled, indignantly. “Hell no. Sam’s brooding just brings out the worst in me.”

"And here I was beginning to believe all that stuff Josh was telling me about how well you two bonded why I was gone." At least his death had resulted in something positive.

"He bossed me around," Sam said. He crossed the room, crowding onto the other corner of Caleb's bed. "Or at least he tried to."

"I was following The Guardian's orders. And he mostly was a pain in my ass, but we survived."

"That's what's important." Dean grew quiet, looking down at the ring on his hand.

Caleb cleared his throat. “You want to talk about it?”

Dean looked from his brother’s intense gaze to Caleb’s concerned face. “I told you there’s not a lot to talk about. I don’t remember…”

“Don’t lie to me. I may not be able read your thoughts, but your emotions are off the chart.”

“You’re reading auras now?” Dean said, folding his arms over his chest, trying to keep his emotions from leaking out. “Maybe you and Bobby’s psychic chic should set up shop.”

“We just want to help,” Sam said. Dean bit down on the inside of his jaw to ward off the stinging behind his eyes. “I told you, I don’t remember much.”

“I thought you didn’t remember anything?”

“Damn it, Sammy.” Dean ran a hand over his hair. “I remember I did some fishing. Okay? Ate a lot of pie. Played chess with Gideon. ” The look Caleb and Sam exchanged was exactly why Dean did not want to breach the subject of what his experience had been, even the lighter side. “Let’s just drop it.”

"I don't understand," Caleb said.

"Neither do I, not all of it." Dean knew he wasn’t going to get away without giving them something, at least explaining his crazy comment. "There were times when I was gone that I was able to get back here, escape what was happening to me. Jim was here, and Gideon…" Dean was sure it was the only thing that kept him sane. Maybe it was like Mackland said; the mind had amazing ways of protecting itself.

"Like a vision?" Caleb frowned. “Or a dream?”

"Maybe projecting or astral traveling?" Sam said.

"I don't know. “ Dean twisted his ring. It wasn’t something Sam could postulate about or Caleb could explain with psychic ability. “All I know is despite where my physical sense was, in my mind I was with Jim and the others." Dean looked from Caleb to Sam. "It happened before when Rose had me, during the torture."

"It could be a Guardian thing," Sam offered. “You’ve talked with Jim in dreams before.”

"I guess." Jim had hinted at as much. The time at the farm seemed blurrier than his time in Hell. Dean swallowed thickly, forcing a strained laugh. "I didn't care what it was. I just didn't want it to end.” But it did and then Dean had done the unthinkable-the unforgivable. “Can we just talk about something else?”

Dean wasn’t sure if Sam and Caleb were willing to drop it because they were glad to have him back or because they were afraid of what else he might say, but Sam cut him a break. “How did it go at Griffin’s?”

“I gave him his ring back-made him an official member of The Brotherhood again.”

“You what?"

"It's time to start over." He met Sam's gaze. "It's our time."

Caleb sat up straighter. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

Dean nodded. "I talked with Mac. He's not going anywhere with the way things are...the demons and Lilith, but he'll be ready for a changing of the guard eventually."

“What about finding what or who freed you from Hell?”

“That’s top priority right now.” Dean met Sam’s gaze. “No matter what we find out, we stick together." Dean opened the scorched box again, moving Jessica’s locket to pick up the silver ring that lay beside it. "Which by the way, I think it’s time you wear this."

Dean recognized the familiar stubborn scowl that donned Sam’s face. "Dad didn't wear a ring."

"You're not Dad, Sammy.” He pushed the ring towards his brother. “And I'm not Jim."

Sam took the ring, staring at it for a long moment before sliding it on his finger. He flexed his fist then looked down at the silver band.

“Not so bad, huh?” Caleb bumped his shoulder.

Sam sighed. "I guess it's not as heavy as I thought."

“That’s my boy.” Dean smiled at his brother, then rolled his eyes to Caleb. "Okay, Damien, go ahead..." He held up his fist and Sam followed suit. "We both know you're dying to say it."

Caleb bumped his hand against theirs with a look of complete exhilaration, one he couldn’t quite mask beneath the exaggerated eye roll or showy snort of derision. "All for one and one for all."

“I hope you’re happy now,” Dean said. “We’re officially the next Triad.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Caleb shoved his blankets aside and stood with a big yawn. He ruffled Dean’s hair before moving away. “It’s great, but it kind of pales in comparison, you know.”

“Where are you going, Damien?” Dean frowned, watching his best friend head for the door. “I didn’t think anything could overshadow your Musketeer dream.”

“Bathroom,” Caleb said. He paused at the door, looking back at Dean. “And neither did I until you came back to us.”

“Hey.” Sam’s touch had Dean refocusing on his brother as he heard the bathroom door close. “You probably want this back.” Sam removed Dean’s amulet from around his neck and offered it to him. “Consider it a welcome back present.”

Dean looked at his brother’s hand for a moment before accepting the totem. “More re-gifting?”

Sam smiled. “We Winchesters are notorious for it.”

“Thanks, Bro.” Dean slipped the amulet over his head. The necklace rested against his heart, and Dean realized how much he’d missed its presence. How much he’d missed his brother. “I’m glad you’re okay, Sammy.”

Sam blinked, his gaze going to his lap. “Dean…”

“I have something for you, too,” Dean interrupted.

Sam cleared his throat and met Dean’s gaze.. “What?”

Dean opened the charred box again, pulling out the silver-winged horse that had belonged to his mother. He’d found the broken toy when he was looking for Dad’s stripes, the mangled pieces were buried with his and Sam’s other treasures. “It took some patience and a whole hell of a lot of glue, but I think she’s better than new.”

Sam’s hand trembled as he took the horse. He traced a finger over a small chip in one wing and looked at Dean. “I thought I crushed her.”

“No, Sammy.” Dean shook his head, thinking of all they had been through.“I’ve never been more certain. . . hope is the one thing that can’t ever be destroyed.”



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