Lessons from Family

By: Ridley C. James


"Every minute you spend with someone gives them a part of your life, and you a share of theirs."

-Author Unknown

We are glass…

Caleb Reaves glanced at his watch, looking towards the sinking sun behind the trees of River Park to reaffirm what his recent gift from his grandfather Cullen Ames had told him. It was after six, time swiftly passing, which meant the drive to New Haven, Kentucky would have him and the Winchesters on the road until midnight. He wasn't sure if Pastor Jim had purposively conspired with Mac to plan a 'surprise' graduation party for him combined with a birthday party for Sam at the farm for the same weekend as Mother's Day, or if luck had just worked in their favor this year.

Most years it took some ingenuity and convenient hunts on The Guardian's part to land the boys in circumstances that kept their thoughts from the painful celebration of all things mom. Caleb considered himself past the point where the holiday bothered him, rarely acknowledging the day as more than a flower and card shop conspiracy, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was glad for the distraction for Dean and Sam, but spending hours trapped in his Jeep with a hyped up teenager and worn out ten-year-old was not Caleb's idea of a good time. He glanced to the outfield wondering at the hold up.

"I got you a Coke and Doritos," Sam Winchester announced, wading through the sea of dads with coolers, moms and their whining toddlers, to reclaim his seat on the wooden bleacher behind the dugout beside Caleb. He handed the older man the food he'd not requested. Caleb noted the second drink, two bags of chips and candy bar Sam was keeping for his own. He recalled with a frown that they had agreed on drinks, holding off on eating at the snack bar in lieu of doing pizza in town after the game.

"And my change, what happened to that?" Caleb was thankful for the Coke, the early May afternoon resembling the dead of summer with its blistering sun and relentless Southern humidity. The absence of any shade exacerbated the lingering headache from his last blow out at Auburn the night before.

"What happened to my thank you?" Sam tore the paper from the Snickers, taking a bite as he regarded Caleb from beneath his black and blue River Town Ravens ball cap he'd also apparently purchased from the Booster Club booth near the snack bar.

"Why should I thank you when it was my money?" Caleb stole the cap from Sam's head, slipping it on his own for some much needed relief from the rays that had been beating down on them for the last three hours as they had sat through the third and fourth seeds teams game prior to the championship. The sensation of it sliding over his recently shorn hair was strange and somewhat comforting as he felt a little naked giving up the long hair he was accustomed to. He'd conceded to Mac that graduating college was a good reason to shed the bad boy look-a beginning of a new era. Besides, he could always grow it back.

"Because Pastor Jim says good manners are a lost religion." Sam grinned, dimples flashing on either side of his mouth as he pulled another new cap from his back pocket and slipped it on his head. He also offered Caleb a sealed packet of Tylenol, which was almost worth the fifty Sam had blown. "Besides, I'm pretty sure it was Mac's money. I'll be sure and thank him tomorrow."

"I'll have you know I worked four years for that money, Runt. It was some of my graduation spoils." His grandfather's business associates, most of whom Caleb had never met, had been extremely generous with congratulation cards and cash. Caleb tore into the tablets, swallowing them with a drink of the soda. He'd agreed to picking up the boys and taking them to the game before accepting an invite to a buddy's after graduation party. Caleb realized now, staying in and packing up the rest of his things would have been the smarter move.

"I'm not a runt anymore. I'm ten! By the way, you haven't given me a birthday present yet."

"Consider the fifty a down payment."

"I was going to." Sam sent him another grin, chewing the last of the candy bar he'd practically inhaled. "You should be thanking me for saving you from blowing your cash on beer and loose women."

"Beer and loose women?" Caleb nearly choked on the Coke. "You hear that from Johnny?"

"Uncle Bobby." Sam regarded him earnestly. "He told Dad that's why he wasn't chipping in one damn red cent for your graduation gift from The Triad. His present is going to be something you'll get more use out of than a hangover and the clap. What's the clap?"

"Never mind. Bobby doesn't know what the hell he's talking about." One time the mechanic had come to bail Caleb out of jail in Alabama after a frat party incident with a couple of strippers. The man would not let him live it down. "I'll have you know that snack you're having and the head gear you're wearing was bought with seed money for the start-up company I'm planning."

"Are you going to build bridges, like the models we made when we were kids?"

Caleb's mouth twitched. "Yeah, like back in the old days when we were kids, only for real this time."

"Maybe Mac can give you the money or Cullen. Uncle Bobby says the Ames's are swimming in it." Sam wiped his hands on his jeans, his eyes going to the outfield where a cheer of 'Go Ravens' sounded.

"Yeah, well, Uncle Bobby's got a big mouth, and I don't want Mac's money or Cullen's." Caleb had politely told his father and grandfather as much at graduation when they tried to hand over a check that had more zeroes than Caleb had ever seen written out. He followed Sam's line of sight, seeing Dean's team huddled tightly in the outfield, a good sign the game was thankfully ready to begin. "Some things a man needs to do on his own."

"Dad says that all the time." Sam reclaimed Caleb's attention with the reply. "That's why he doesn't take charity, not even from family, but Pastor Jim says sometimes pride makes a man foolish."

Caleb met the ten-year-old's dark gaze; swallowing hard at the thought of the dump of a house he'd picked the boys up from that morning, the old cleats Dean had been wearing and the torn jeans Sam was sporting. Both of them had ravaged breakfast, and Caleb wondered just how long John had been gone this time. He'd not dropped in on the Winchesters in the last couple of months, having had a killer last semester of classes along with his internship at the architectural firm. Caleb felt very remiss in his duty. He handed Sam his bag of chips. "It's not really the same, Kiddo."

Sam took the bag with a shrug that did nothing to convince Caleb he wasn't anything like John or reassure him of his integrity in the least. "Look, Dean's batting first."

Caleb's guilt lingered as he watched Dean knock one down the middle, out of the opposing short stop's reach. The kid had improved since the season began in late February, starting every game which was rare for a freshman, proving the exceptional talent he'd shown since he was eight. Guilt was quickly replaced by pride as the Ravens took the outfield where Dean assisted in three quick outs.

Caleb had caught only a handful of games this year, Dean filling him in on their winning season along with his burgeoning obsession with the opposite sex during the phone calls that Caleb had at least kept up on a regular basis. It was one of the things John usually did right, keeping the boys in one school during the baseball season, allowing his oldest son a chance to do the one thing he loved outside of his family and hunting. If it meant Caleb pulled an all-night drive to make it from Auburn to River Town, North Carolina so Dean had a way to the championship game and albeit small fan section, it was worth it.

He and Sam alternately cheered for the Ravens # 8 and ragged on the opposing team in appropriate brotherly fashion. Dean's skill at first base was matched only by that of their team's short stop, Brody Atkins, who although small for his eighteen years, had a cat-like agility and a throwing arm Caleb was certain had brought the scouts from LSU that Dean had mentioned on the ride over to the field. Atkins' talent had also won him the unabashed admiration of the fourteen year old. Between the two gifted players, they'd helped the Ravens hold their five run lead through the eighth inning, keeping the Panthers scoring to bare minimum in all likelihood to sew up the championship. Caleb could admit that Dean's wide-eyed recanting of Brody's many attributes, error-less season and altogether baseball Zen-ness had given him a beat of jealousy.

"Dean says Brody always knows where the ball's going to go before the batter even swings," Sam spoke up as they watched the Raven's shortstop reach out and snatch a hard drive down the middle like it was a paper clip and his glove a powerful magnet. That was two outs for the Panthers, with one runner on first. "Do you think he's psychic?"

Caleb tipped back the bill of his cap, wiping a hand over his sweating brow as he shot Sam a knowing look. "If he is, I'm pissed. His gift trumps death visions any day of the week."

"Dean says Brody will be recruited for the majors before he finishes college."

"What's it with you and parroting everyone's every sentiment these days? You practicing to be the town crier?"

Sam gave another shrug. "Mac says mimicking behavior and parroting language is normal at my age. I'm figuring out what kind of man I'll be. Positive role models are crucial at this point."

Caleb snorted at the idea of his father having one of his brainy chats with Sam. They'd begun as soon as Sam could string sentences together. "Then he should talk to John about cutting out the visits to Uncle Bobby's until you get it all worked out, Einstein."

"Do you think some college will want Dean to play for them?" Sam brought his thumb to his mouth, chewing on the edge.

Despite Sam's claim to being at the precipice of manhood, he couldn't have looked more like a wary five-year-old in that moment. Caleb made sure to keep quiet about his hopes that Dean was afforded the same opportunities Mac had forced upon him. The older Dean got, the more a desperate need to put some distance between the kid and John bubbled inside Caleb. Maybe it was the idea of Dean deciding what kind of man he was to be with John Winchester as his prime example. "Deuce has a lot of potential."

"That's your way of not saying he could go away to Auburn or some other school."

So much for evasion. Caleb tugged Sam's hand away from his mouth. "That's a long ways off, Runt. Dean's not going anywhere. Besides, at the rate you're going, you'll be all grown up by then, maybe skip a few grades to tag along on some savant scholarship."

Sam returned Caleb's grin looking more like the overly confident ten-year old. He returned his gaze to the field where the Panther's latest batter swung for his first strike. "Yeah, Dean would never leave me alone with dad."

Sam might not have added the 'like you left him', but Caleb felt the weight of it just the same. A rush of dread washed over him and he answered the sudden urge to seek Dean out to make contact with him. His eyes had no sooner landed on the fourteen year old than the crack of the bat making contact with the ball split the air like a sonic boom, a roar going up from the opposing crowd as shouts blasted from the rapt audience around them.

It was a grounder, a smart desperate move on the Panther's part considering Brody seemed able to elongate his arms to any length to catch drives and capable of taking flight if necessary to pick pop flies out of midair. The ball slammed against the dirt, bounced, but Brody's proposed psychic ability seemed to kick in allowing him to slide into its path, coax it into his glove. With the same dexterity he'd used to capture his target, the shortstop spun and fired the ball towards first base. Caleb had seen Auburn's all star quarterback launch a football the length of the field with less ferocity and power. He felt the explosion of pain across the link he shared with Dean a sheer second before his mind translated what his eyes had seen and relayed the information. Brody Atkins had just made his first error of the season.

Dean dropped with the impact, rolled backwards over the grass. Caleb was momentarily frozen to his seat, the gasps and muttered four letter words from the crowd roaring in his head like the ocean tide. It was both bizarre and terrifying that his mother's face flashed before him, the memory of a day at the beach overlaying the scene spinning out of his control on the field. She held up a piece of sea glass, a smoky dull blue.

'The longer sea glass stays out in the water the better, Cherie. The pounding of the surf tossing it over the sand and rocks tempers it, removes the weak parts, smoothes the rough edges. The sea takes something broken, lost and makes it treasure again."

Watching Dean tumble across the baseline as if he had been bowled over by a vicious wave to lay motionless in a growing spot of red, Caleb lost sight of his mother. Her voice gave way to Sam's shout, her ghost like grip on his hand falling away as the ten-year-old tugged him to his feet. The only thought Caleb could muster as he ran to get to Dean was that of how all sea glass began- shattered pieces of something that had once been whole.


Put others first

There was nothing quite like the game of baseball to Dean Winchester. He loved everything about it –from the perfect symmetrical plane of the ball field to the smell of hotdogs and popcorn. Dean loved his black Rawlings Sandlot Series first base mitt that the other guys on the team secretly coveted, the buttery feel of the batting glove he'd lucked up on at a Salvation Army store in Newton, Ohio a few years back, and the raised red seam stitching of baseballs. He loved that getting dirty was expected, and he could spit whenever and wherever he wanted except on the umpire, though he'd been tempted more than once by a bad call. Dean loved the roar of the crowd when he scooped a ball to tag a runner out, or when he made a perfect throw to second to prevent a steal. He had an unyielding affection for the number eight which stood out starkly on more than half a dozen shirts from the different teams he'd played for since he was a kid. Most of all Dean loved the clean orderly rules of baseball, not the ones they teach all little leaguers, but the unspoken ones that a player gleaned along the way.

Baseball demanded a guy be in the moment, all thoughts focused on that little white sphere. Dean's sole responsibility was to stop the runner. Once he was on the field, there was no room for anything else but the game; especially at the first corner where he played. His agility and reflexes made him a natural for the position of first base. It wasn't something Dean had to work hard at, or anything he had to have extra help with. Dean was a natural.

First base called for complete concentration, precision and an uncanny ability to react to any situation that arose. Baseball had taught Dean to think on his feet, or maybe life had provided that valuable lesson and it merely paid off in the sport. Today Dean relied on his honed instincts, let his body put him in the position to catch the ball Brody Atkins was going to fire his way to hold the Panther's runner in a play similar to the hundreds they'd completed successfully over the season.

Brody was a high caliber player. Dean had come to trust his infield aim as well as he would trust Caleb's in a life or death standoff when hunting. As expected the ball found Dean's glove, but only skimmed the very tip. It ricocheted off, striking Dean above his right eye with all the force of a shotgun blast to the face.

Dean saw an explosion of stars before the pain struck, hot and fierce like the backdraft of a bomb. It knocked him off his feet, rolling him as sure as a surprise detonation. Contact with the ground was brutal before darkness collapsed onto of him like a ton of rubble, momentarily smothering the pain with its vast blackness. When he resurfaced, the slivers of harsh light brought the return of the pain and an unexpected surge of emotion Dean recognized as good old fear.

Not much scared Dean these days. Fear was an enemy he couldn't afford. Getting older meant his dad took him on more and more hunts, relied on him to watch his back in situations that would have most guys his age shitting their pants. Dean had the scars to prove his resolve and bravery. He was tough as a knotty pine as Bobby liked to say. It rolled over into his alter-ego of typical high school student. Dean gained pleasure in facing down baddies bigger than him in the halls, took knocks on the field in stride. Runners slid into him, foul balls clipped him; he didn't complain, and he sure as hell wouldn't dream of crying. But this was different.

The aftershock rocked through him; frightening him not only with its intensity, but with the fact he couldn't quite seem to get up off the ground. Dean always got up. He had been tossed against walls by poltergeists, tackled by a werewolf, and even knocked on his ass by Caleb when he'd stepped too close with his guard down to the older hunter in a sparring match last year that had earned him an impressive black eye, a dressing down from his father, and the Rawlings glove he loved so much from a guilt-ridden Damien.

The sudden need to call out for his dad surprised him. It was something he hadn't done in years, and even then his defenses had been compromised by a high fever from the flu. Pastor Jim was the only one to hear him, Sammy sleeping in Caleb's old room, their father thankfully away on a hunt with Mac. The Guardian assured him it was nothing to bring shame. He'd seen brave men cut down on the battle field ask for their mother, expect her miraculous appearance and intervention in their suffering. It was innate, he promised- human and completely normal to want the people who could soothe any wound, who would protect us from any harm. Dean took pride in not being normal.

He chided himself for being a baby even as he forced his eyes open hoping to see his father. Brody was there instead, two exact fuzzy carbon copies of him in fact.

"Winchester? Shit, kid you alright?"

"Step back, Atkins, give the boy some room."


Caleb's voice had him blinking, struggling to form words that came out in a low moan. It wasn't his dad, but Caleb often tied with John Winchester for person most likely to tear the still-beating heart out of anything that threatened Dean. He might not have gone as far as to ever kiss a booboo and make it better, but Caleb took the sight of Dean's blood harder than any mother. He had been accused by Bobby on numerous occasions of fretting like a bitch dog over her pup. Dean would have to tease his friend about the impressive slide into first base later; right now he just wanted Damien to make the awful pain stop, to make it all go away.

"Dean? Can you hear me?" Caleb didn't wait for a reply, one of his hands coming to Dean's chest, the other cupping his face. "Deuce?"

"That was a hell of a hit he took."

"I'm damn sorry, Coach. My grip must have slipped. Is he alright?"

Dean wanted to tell the coach and Brody to shut the fuck up and get the hell away from him, his eyes seeking out Caleb as their commentary fueled his own unnatural fear.

"Get us some help out here," Caleb snarled and Dean managed to raise his hand, grip one of Caleb's. He wasn't sure the hot liquid he felt slide down his face was blood or tears, but the burning in his eyes had him fearing it was the ladder.

"Take it easy, Slugger, you're going to be fine." Caleb's attempt at a reassuring grin, and the fact he leaned closer sliding a hand over Dean's hair confirmed Dean's dread.

"It…hurts." Hurt didn't cover it. Dean was certain his head was split in two, which explained why he couldn't lift it. He had an irrational desire to crawl to Caleb, burrow away from the pain in a manner much like Scout when she'd have a run in with the electric fence at the farm and she'd scramble onto Sammy's lap, all 80 pounds of her as if she were still a puppy Sam could shield from any harm.

"Do something, Caleb."

Dean's thoughts of Sam seemed to conjure his little brother, and something inside the injured teen shifted as he felt the ten-year-old grip his other hand. Sam's frightened face suddenly appeared in Dean's blurred field of vision. His voice was tremulous, higher than usual and it helped to bring Dean to his senses, catapulting him from that place where he kept the wounded five-year-old under lock and key inside him to the present day where Dean was much more adult than adolescent.

"Help him. He's bleeding," Sam demanded.

"I'm working on it, Runt."

Dean should have known his brother would have witnessed what happened and been right behind Caleb. The need to erase the fear blazing in Sam's dark gaze gave him the strength to do what he hadn't been able to before. He reigned in his own runaway panic, raised his head, his stomach roiling in protest as the price. Pushing through, Dean used his elbows for leverage against the ground.

"Help me up, Damien."

"Hey, hey, I don't think that's such a good idea, Son." Coach Harvey's hand fell heavy on his shoulder, pinning him in place. "Let the paramedics check you out first. You're going to need a trip to the ER."

"The hospital?" Sam croaked.

Coach was a nice guy, had played minors for the Orioles organization out of college. Dean took orders from him on the field like he would Mac or Bobby on a hunt, but if standing up meant allaying Sam's fear, then that was damn well what Dean was going to do. "No, I'm good."

"Stay down, Dean." Caleb's voice left no room for negotiation, and one look at his set jaw sucked what little adrenaline Dean had managed. Damien's emotions were easy to play, use against him in ways Dean had learned from watching the master John Winchester, but those same strong feelings could cement a resolve that was impervious to any manipulation when it came to doing what he thought was best for Dean or Sam. Dean appreciated the effort it took for Caleb to soften his voice, to manage a half smile as he ruffled Sam's hair. "Calm down, Runt. We all know no blow to the head is going to take out a Winchester, but the Coach has a reputation to uphold. Letting his top notch first baseman walk off the field untreated would make him seem like a completely incompetent ass."

Dean was pretty sure Caleb already considered Coach Harvey as such considering Dean got hurt on his watch, but he had faith in the fact his best friend would be too consumed with worry over Dean to act on any misplaced blame.

"I'm okay, Sammy." Dean closed his eyes as another round of dizziness threatened to bring up the dregs of breakfast he'd had that morning. Darkness was starting to encroach again, more like a slow moving fog this time, creeping in to blanket softly over him.

If Sam replied it was drown out by the flurry of activity as two paramedics shoved their way to Dean's side. The break of contact with his brother and Caleb had his last reserves of adrenaline stirring, fighting the ministrations of the medical professionals as that five-year-old boy's fear returned with a vengeance. It was his brother's voice, not his father's that soothed him.

"We're right here, Dean. Caleb and I aren't going anywhere."

Dean took faith in the promise, disappearing into the beckoning black.


Sometimes people leave…

Sam Winchester might have just turned ten, but there were certain truths he understood about life that most people would never have to grasp. For one, monsters in the closet were real, so were witches, werewolves and ghosts. They weren't just great movie material or cool costumes to wear on Halloween. The night held horrors that Stephen King couldn't begin to dream up. It should be given a healthy respect, like the ocean and a shot gun.

Sam also knew that life wasn't fair or just. Good people had bad things happen to them all the time. Good people sometimes did bad things. They might steal, lie and cheat for a greater good. Heroes could look like the villain in their most important quest to protect others. People needed protection, even when they thought they were safe. People were never really safe.

Sam knew that Dean didn't want him to know this last one. It was why the green dragon Athewm worked so hard to keep Prince Samuel tucked away in the castle of Pastor Jim's made up world and why Dean worked so hard to protect Sam from everything that might hurt him, preventing the big bad truth from sinking its razor-sharp teeth into a ten-year-old psyche.

It's why Caleb kept up a one-sided conversation with Dean the ambulance ride to the hospital, telling all of Sam's favorite stories about his big brother. He talked, joked, the entire time holding Dean's hand despite both their dislike of anything that might be considered what they liked to call chick flick territory. Big brothers, in Sam's experience, would go to any lengths, even jeopardize their macho reputation to keep their kid brothers in the dark for as long as possible. Still, Sam knew. Brothers aren't invincible super heroes. Their powers of protection are limited, cruel truth like green Kryptonite. People leave us, no matter how much we love them.

Sam's mom left. Death was a goodbye of its own. Somewhere deep down inside that might have been the beginning of Sam's realization even if he couldn't remember Mary Winchester's face, or her laugh, or the songs Dean swore she sang to Sam every night; but it was his father's constant leaving that drove home the point on a consistent basis. John Winchester was always going-to hunt for something, to find someone, to finish a job. Sam's earliest memory of his father was that of being left, his broad shoulders disappearing through Bobby Singer's front door. It was a strange sensation when John barreled into the hospital ER, running straight for Sam.


"Dad." Sam stood, unable to fend off the knee jerk reaction to seek reassurance from his father. He flung himself at the older man, burying his face in John's chest like he used to when the man would return from a long hunt or a short trip to the store. He had stopped such dramatic displays around eight, settling for a hair ruffle or shoulder squeeze instead. Mac would most certainly tell him the recent turn of events more than justified a bit of regression.

"Hey, bud, how's your brother?"

Sam held onto his father for a moment, relishing in his strong embrace, the smell of woods, gun powder and a scent that was John Winchester alone. He'd never admit it, but a part of him missed this closeness. Pastor Jim was the only one who still insisted he get a hug upon every reunion.


Sam wanted to cry and selfishly cling to his father a bit longer, but Dean needed him to be strong. He pulled away, straightened his shoulders like he'd watch his older brother do so many times before. Sam met his father's gaze.

"He's in the ER, Sir. They wouldn't let kids in, said I had to wait out here with Coach Harvey and Brody." Sam gestured to the seat where he had been sitting. Dean's mitt, batting glove and hat were on top of a stack of paperwork. "They went to the cafeteria for some coffee and food, but I told them I wasn't hungry and I needed to fill out the forms, but I didn't know what insurance I was supposed to use. I couldn't remember the right last name."

"Where's Caleb, Samuel?" Sam noticed Mackland for the first time. The doctor was standing at John's side, rumpled, disheveled, and completely un-Mac like in his dark T-shirt and Yankees baseball cap. Sam sometimes forgot the refined doctor was also a hunter. He knelt in front of Sam, his big hand finding the back of Sam's neck to give it a gentle but firm squeeze.

"He went in with Dean, told them he wasn't- well, a word Pastor Jim said I should never under any circumstance say even though Dad and Caleb say it all the time."

"That sounds about right." John sighed wearily.

"And whose fault is that?" Mac moved his hand, tugging on Sam's hair with a flash of a grin. "We all know where my son gets his way with people, now don't we."

"Can you give me a break, Mac? Go work your 'I'm the Almighty Doctor Ames' bullshit and get me some damn information about my son."

"See what I mean." Mac winked at Sam, standing. "Explain the big words on the forms to your father, Samuel and I'll be back in a moment."

"How did you all get here so fast?" Sam slumped into his seat, watching as Mac's back disappeared through the silver bay doors. He wished he could go, too, not be left behind hoping for the best.

"Pastor Jim called us as soon as Caleb phoned him."

"Caleb tried you on your cell first," Sam shifted his attention to his father. He remembered the last time Caleb hadn't been so quick in calling John when Dean was in trouble. It had not ended well for his brother or Caleb.

"Mac and I were ass deep in," John seemed to notice the few people taking up space in the waiting area, "work. What the hell happened, Kiddo?"

"Brody Atkins happened." Sam knew technically it wasn't the shortstop's fault, but it was easier to have someone to focus his anger on. Brody felt bad about what happened, insisting on riding with the coach to the hospital to check on Dean. "His throw was off."

"That the kid the scouts are looking at?" John took the seat by Sam, picking up the paperwork that had to be filled out.

"Yeah." Sam was surprised his father recalled the name. Dean had mentioned Brody a few times in his presence, but John usually seemed too engrossed in research to carry on a lengthy conversation about Sam's or Dean's day. "Dean says he can throw an 85 mile per hour ball."

"That's damn good for a short stop."

"Not so good for Dean's head."

"Your brother has a hell of a hard head, Son." His father ruffled his hair before letting his arm come to rest around Sam's shoulders. "It runs in the family."

Sam allowed himself to lean into his father's touch. "That's what Caleb told the paramedics. He said it was a freaky genetic anomaly, and that Mac was thinking of submitting a journal article about it." The comment had lightened the mood in the ambulance after Dean awoke disoriented. It had taken Sam and the medical staff a beat to realize his brother was joking when the paramedic asked him who he was and Dean's reply was 'Lou Gehrig'.

"But there was a lot of blood," Sam glanced guiltily up at his father. "Not that I'm afraid of blood or anything."

His father squeezed his shoulder, surprising Sam by not appearing one bit disappointed. "Truthfully, blood has always kind of freaked me out."

Sam shook his head at the confession. "Nothing freaks you out, Dad. Black Dragons are impervious to fear."

John laughed, the kind of laugh adults did when whatever they heard was more painful than funny. "I wish that were true, Sammy but when it comes to you and your brother this old dragon's scales aren't so tough. The only reason I'm not blowing fire up someone's ass right now is because Mac called the hospital as soon as we found out. They assured him Dean's condition was stable."

"You still let Dean go on hunts." Sam made sure to keep his voice low, his eyes locked on his father's face to gauge just how close he was to stepping out of line. Mac said pushing boundaries was natural at Sam's age, like when he was a toddler and had to learn what behavior would be tolerated, but John Winchester was not exactly big on self-exploration or self-expression. "He gets hurt a lot."

John took his arm from around Sam, bringing both his elbows to his knees to lean forward. "Yeah, well, I've learned that we can't always put those we love in a bubble, especially when there's a job to be done."

Sam didn't really believe keeping your son out of situations where shotguns, silver bullets, and man-eating monsters were the norm was anywhere near being overprotective, but his dad looked so tired, like he hadn't slept in a few days, which was probably the case, that Sam didn't say so, even though Pastor Jim said speaking from your heart always led the conversation down a righteous path.

"That doesn't mean that it doesn't scare the holy hell out of me when something happens to you or your brother." John turned his head to hold Sam's gaze. "I'd die to protect either of you."

The look of desperation in John's dark eyes made Sam think of his mother, the way he sometimes caught his dad staring at her picture when he thought the boys were in bed, but Sam had sneaked up for one last drink, or trip to the rest room. Sam was glad he'd stayed quiet, which was the path Dean often chose no matter what might lay in his heart. "I know, Dad."

John's mouth twitched, some of the sadness fading from his face. "Your Mom was the fearless one."

"Really?" Sam jumped at the rare opportunity to hear something new about Mary Winchester. When Sam could coax his brother to talk about their mom, Dean usually told the same stories, moments that were powerful enough to stick with a four-year-old psyche. They revolved around peanut butter cookies, favorite bedtime stories and lazy summer days at the park.

"Nothing could shake her." John leaned back in the seat, returning his arm to Sam's shoulders. "There was this one day your mom was about seven months along with you and I decided that my boys, like all boys, needed a tree house. Dean and I were going to make it a father/son spring project."

"You built us a tree house?" Sam found it almost as hard to wrap his mind around the man that Dean had known for four years as he did the ghost of a mother Sam had never had the chance to know. Technically Sam hadn't lost just his mom in the fire. He lost the chance to have a different kind of dad. The only father/son projects Sam had known were running war game maneuvers in the Appalachian Mountains last summer, swap meets at local militia gatherings, and the occasional weekend spent melting silver for bullets.

"Your mom made me tear it down after Dean fell out of the window on my watch. I stepped away just for a minute to grab some nails…" John reached out and ran a finger over the hair above Sam's ear, his voice thick and husky. "You can't see the scar now, but the gash took seventeen stitches."

"I bet there was a lot of blood."

"It seemed like more than I'd seen my whole time in the Marines. I was sure I'd killed him. He didn't cry when I picked him up, just stared at me with those big green eyes like he couldn't quite believe I hadn't caught him."

"What did mom do?"

"She took one look at my face, Dean in my arms, turned off dinner, grabbed her purse, keys, first aid kit we kept under the kitchen sink and ordered me into the Impala. Cool as a cucumber right up to the moment they wheeled Dean down to Radiology for a cautionary CAT scan."

"Then did she cry?" Sam tried to conjure an image of his parents in that moment, what they might have looked like in that situation, but found it nearly impossible to imagine an interaction he'd never witnessed. The only women he had seen his father relate to were waitresses, a few teachers, and the women at Jim's church that Caleb called desperate spinsters.

"Not until she'd gotten us both a coffee, and badgered a floor nurse into bringing me a scrub top to change into so I could get out of the t-shirt covered in your brother's blood. Even then only a few tears, and I think those were more for me."

"She sounds really brave." Sam watched his father focus on his left hand, twisting the gold band on his finger. For the longest time Sam thought his dad wore a different ring than that of the other hunters because he was The Knight. It was Pastor Jim who explained, telling Sam that the gold of John's wedding ring bound him to something even more powerful and magical than the shared silver of The Brotherhood.

"Your mom was the bravest person I've ever known."

Sam waited for his father to look at him again, bolstered by the fact there was no trace of the typical fiery anger that often lit his dark eyes when Mary was mentioned. "I really wish I could remember her."

John let out a deep sigh, running both hands through his hair in a manner that usually meant he'd hit a brick wall in research for a hunt, had no new leads in sight and was itching for some space. It usually preceded his father leaving to seek the company of a bottle. "Me too, Kiddo.Me too."

Sam wanted nothing more in that moment than to keep his father close, sober. He knew the only way he could ensure that was to let his mother go. Sam cleared his throat, ignoring the true questions in his heart, forcing a lightness he didn't feel into his tone. "So, Dean was okay?"

John's mouth twitched, dimples flashing. "Your brother was fine, released in just a few hours."

"I guess Winchester's really are born with hard heads."

John pinched the bridge of his nose, giving another adult laugh. "Your brother could be our poster child. He was unfazed by the whole thing, thought the fact they shaved his head to do the stitches was pretty cool."

Sam snorted. "That would so not be the case today. Dean will freak out if they touch his hair."

"Afraid it might hurt his luck with the ladies."

"Seriously, Dad?" Sam rolled his eyes at his father's cluelessness. "Dean doesn't believe anything short of a gory decapitation will hurt his power over girls, even then he'd claim his smoking hot body would still be a great draw."

"Ah, yes." John sighed. "Another thing I have to thank the recent college grad for."

Sam didn't point out the fact his father really had no one to blame for Caleb's insidious influence over Dean but himself. "It's not the girls. The coach doesn't let the players change their hair once the season starts- something about balance and their stride."

John shook his head. "Baseball players are a strange lot."

"Nothing like hunters." Sam was proud he'd managed the task of warding off one of his father's dark moods. Dean would be impressed. "Caleb says Uncle Bobby won't change his socks or underwear once a hunt begins."

"I think that has more to do with your Uncle Bobby's laziness when it comes to decent grooming than it does any kind of superstition on his part, Son." John bumped Sam's shoulder. "Either way, lucky for me I can order Junior to share a tent or a room with him when we're on long gigs."

"It pays to be The Knight." Sam recalled on more than one occasion when his father had pulled the seniority card on his young protégé. Caleb in turn often tried to use the trump with him and Dean.

"Sometimes." John's gaze moved towards the silver bay doors that blocked them from the ER suite. Sam caught a glimpse of that same sad look his father had when staring at faded photographs of Mary. "But like most things, it has high costs."

"I'm really glad you're here now, Dad." Sam reached out and in a bold move placed his hand on his father's knee.

"Me too, Son." John covered Sam's hand with his own.

For a ten-year-old, Sam Winchester was wise, but in that instant he realized there were still some things he may need to learn, truths he would have to come to accept as he grew older. Like that even though a man might want nothing more than to stay with the family he loved, there were times when the only choice he felt he could make was to leave them behind. Maybe he'd even come to find that the leaving part, although painful to those left wasn't as important as the fact that if you were lucky, the people you loved made their way back to you in their own time.

"Dean will be really glad, too."

John gave Sam's hand a squeeze before standing. "What do you say we go let him know we're both waiting on him?"

Sam glanced to the doors and then to the nurse's station. "But, there's no kids allowed."

"That's okay, Tiger." John grinned, gesturing for Sam to follow him. "I'm not a fucking kid."

Sam relished the instant rush of warmth that flooded him at finally being allowed to come along. He grabbed Dean's gloves and hat, grinning up at his father as they barreled through the double doors together in the same manner in which Sam had watched Caleb do earlier with Dean. "You know, Dad, Uncle Bobby says Mac really has no one to blame for Caleb's bad behavior but himself."

John snorted. "How about you clue the good doctor in on the way to Pastor Jim's?"

"Maybe later, like on Sunday before he goes back to New York." Sam was smart enough to realize that speaking your mind wasn't always in a kid's best interest, even if the words were from your heart. "He hasn't given me my birthday present yet."

Sam was rewarded with a real laugh from his father this time, the kind kids take for granted, and a tug to bring him closer to his dad's side. "That's my boy."


You are treasure…

"Where the hell are the boys?"

Caleb winced at the barked question as he slowly made his way up the stairs of Jim's back porch. John was in the doorway his face set in grim lines. "I told them to hide and wait for an all clear seeing as how I've been summoned to an uncertain fate by your bellowing."

"Cute." His mentor stepped out of the way, ushering Caleb into the kitchen. "Won't you join us, Sir Put Upon?"

"Do I have a choice?" Caleb gave Scout a dirty look as the Labrador slinked past him to escape the house, heading for the pond where he'd left Dean and Sam. At least Atticus Finch had not abandoned his post, though Caleb was certain it had more to do with the fact Bobby was tenderizing steak and marinating ribs in his secret recipe than any allegiance to Caleb.

"No." John gave him a slight shove towards the table, where Mac and Jim were sitting with a stack of paperwork and a pitcher of iced tea. "When your presence is requested by The Triad it isn't an invitation you can decline, Junior."

Caleb snorted. "Sort of like when Don Corleone asks you to join him for cannoli?"

"How many times must I tell you comparisons to the mob are not flattering to The Brotherhood, Son?"

"It's all in jest, Dad." Caleb grinned at his father, taking the empty chair next to The Guardian. "But personally, Deuce and I think Jim would make an awesome Godfather."

The Pastor arched a brow. "I'm not sure how to take that, my boy."

"With a grain of fucking salt like everything else the smart ass comes up with these days," Bobby stopped stirring Jack Daniels into his concoction to turn and face the younger hunter in question. He'd donned the 'I'm a Saucy boy' apron Fiona had bought him for Christmas, which meant he was taking his role as head chef very seriously and that his coveted grilling tools were sure to make an appearance. "The kid should have graduated with a diploma in bullshitting and trash talk if you ask me."

"Good thing no one asked you, Sanford." Caleb leaned back in his chair, managing a cool grin until John kicked the seat, nearly sending him over backwards. Caleb quickly planted all four legs back on the linoleum sending his mentor a heated glare, which John returned with a look that said for Caleb to cut the antics.

"If I recall, Robert, you asked not to be present at this particular part of the meeting." Jim shot the mechanic a look over the rim of his glasses. "Please keep your commentary to yourself."

Bobby rolled his eyes, but made a lock and key motion over his lips as he went back to doctoring his ribs.

"What exactly is this meeting about?" Caleb let his gaze go around the table, stopping on Jim. "I swear it was not my idea to take the apple pie you stashed for a late night snack. I was actually the one who saved the surprise birthday cake you've got hidden on the top shelf of the pantry, so unless you brought me in here to thank me…"

"Do you really think I've not learned to make a spare pie or two when you boys are in the house, young man?" Jim slid his reading glasses to the top of his head to rest in his mass of silver hair.

Caleb smiled at The Guardian. He and Dean would have to make their usual wager on how long the pastor would search the house for them before someone, typically Sam, if they didn't pay him off, pointed out their location. "I think you're a very smart man, Jim-the smartest."

Bobby's snort and mumbling garnered him another glare from The Guardian. "Perhaps you should go start the grill, Robert. Missouri and Rufus should be arriving soon."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm going." Bobby grunted, shooing Atticus ahead of him. "But only because the air is getting damn thick in here, and I have something in my car I need to get."

"I thought he'd never leave." Caleb waited for the mechanic to go before facing the three men. He tapped his fingers on the table, hoping he didn't look as apprehensive as he was beginning to feel. Both his father and John had their blocks up, not allowing him even a glance at their thoughts as to what might have prompted the request for his presence. He knew John had let him off too easy at the hospital, reprimanding Caleb for giving the hospital staff a hard time instead of raking him over the coals for Dean being hurt. The gathering was definitely beginning to feel much more like an official inquisition with the Triad, which had only occurred once before when he'd nearly botched Dean's first werewolf hunt.

"You're not in trouble, Son."

Caleb realized he'd been remiss in his own blocks when his father sent him a sympathetic smile. He released the breath he had been holding.

"Yes, we gave Bobby the opportunity to join us, but he seems to have other ideas about what your needs may be after this past weekend's momentous occasion."

"This is about my graduation?" Caleb faced Jim, wondering if The Guardian was concerned about what plans he might have next. The pastor had been almost as strong a proponent of Caleb going to Auburn as Mackland had, ordering The Knight to lighten his training and hunt rotation when school was in session. But college was over now, and maybe Jim expected Caleb to take on more responsibility. "Because, I'm ready to get back in the game…"

"What about your company?" Mac spoke up. "The business you were hoping to start with Oliver?"

Caleb internally winced, wishing like hell his father hadn't mentioned his idiotic plan in front of John of all people. "Dad, that's just an idea, something I intend on saving up for while I hunt."

"Because we pay you such a decent salary for your services?" Jim waited for Caleb to look at him, tilting his head ever so slightly to the side. "Although incredibly honorable, my boy, The Brotherhood is a far cry from a fortune five hundred company."

"He sure the hell isn't going to make a bank roll with pool or poker," John interjected. "Junior's great talent doesn't lie in hustling."

"No thanks to your expert tutelage, Johnathan." Mac ran a finger over his brow. "I can't say I'm disappointed in the fact my only son is a D-student in that area."

"Geez, Dad, give me some credit. I wouldn't say 'D'." Caleb might not be as skilled a con-artist as John, but he could damn well hold his own, making quite the killing in his old roommate Moose's weekly poker games and the occasional pool tournament at the student U. "B-minus at the least."

"C-plus on a really good day, Kid." John smacked him on the back of the head as he leaned over to reach the large red cooler by his chair. The Knight dug through the ice, pulling two beers, one of which he placed before Mac, the other he kept for himself. "Ace could school you when he was Sam's age."

"I can't help it if Deuce was cursed with his dad's aptitude for excelling at deviant behavior." Caleb attempted to take the unopened beer in front of his father, only to have Jim slide it out of his reach, replacing it with a sweating glass of iced tea instead. He rolled his eyes at the child-like treatment, but bit his tongue. The fact he was twenty-two, a year over the legal age to drink, was not going to deter Jim from perpetually treating him as one of his 'boys'.

"I think what your father and Johnathan are trying to point out is that perhaps saving for this proposed venture is not the most prudent route."

"What would you have me do, Jim?" Caleb glanced at his mentor then back to the preacher. "If I take a full time position with someone else's firm to raise the cash and build my reputation enough to win the confidence of a banker willing to take a risk on me, then I'm not exactly going to have a lot of time to devote to hunting, which is still and will always be my priority."

"Owning your own business means you're the boss." John took a long drink of his beer; giving a sigh of satisfaction Caleb was quite sure was for his benefit. "You need time off, you take it. Leave your buddy Bull in charge."

"That's well and good, Johnny, but did you just miss the whole cart before the horse spiel I laid out?" Part of the reason Caleb wanted his own firm was so that he could come and go as he pleased. He might have a desire to build bridges, to leave his mark on the world, but his first dream was that of brotherhood. "No serious investor is going to bank a fresh, out of college architect, and his college buddy, Moose, whose still working on his MBA. I'm a nobody."

"You are most certainly not a nobody," Jim interrupted, his fierce blue eyes pinning Caleb with laser-like intensity. "You are an incredibly talented young man with the drive and fortitude to make an excellent entrepreneur. And I can assure you that The Triad is very serious about the undertaking of investing in a future that promises to be quite stellar."

"The Triad?" Caleb scanned the table again, his eyes meeting each of the men before him. "You three want to invest in my company?"

"Yes, Son." Mac glanced to John then Jim. "We would like to bankroll your business venture."

"Dad, we already talked about this." Caleb ran a hand through his hair. "I don't want the Ames money. I thought you and Granddad understood when…"

"This has nothing to do with the Ames fortune, I assure you. The money I'm contributing has come solely from my work with the FBI, the private consulting I have done for families who have sought me out for their missing children since coming into my abilities." Mac slid a bank ledger across the table. "I've kept a separate account for years, knowing that in time I'd find the right thing to do with the money. You son, are my perfect investment."

Caleb's eyes were drawn to the figures on the statement, his throat constricting at the amount. "Dad, I don't know what to say."

"I am an Ames, so say you'll provide me and my accountant with quarterly reports of how my money is fairing." Mac reached across the table, and squeezed Caleb's wrist, giving his son a watery smile. "Just say yes, Son."

"I would also be honored if you'd accept my contribution, my boy." Jim slid a folded paper towards Caleb. "It will save me the expense of hiring more hands in hay mowing season."

Caleb took the paper and unfolded it. It was a note of sale for twenty acres of prime farm land. "No, Jim, no way I can take this-this is the farm-yourhome."

"It is only a small portion of the farm, a portion Emma and I bought for the sole purpose of selling when we got ready to spend our golden years together travelling to see all the amazing sights of the world." Jim laid a hand on Caleb's arm. "Besides, this farm has not truly been my home since she died. It's your home, Dean and Samuel's home. Now, you'll use a piece of it to build something just as beautiful as the plans Emma and I envisioned."

"This goes with it." John tossed a bulging leather pouch on top of the other items in front of Caleb, cutting off Caleb's chance at rebuttal. "My savings from The Corp. I planned on buying my own garage one day, starting a family business, but after Mary," John briefly turned his head towards Mac, cleared his throat. "I had your father hold onto it for the boys, in case something happened to me."

Caleb began to shake his head, not even willing to pick up the pouch. "I could never take something away from the boys." His family had already cost Dean and Sam too much, an amount that could never be repaid. Even with the years he'd invested in protecting them, the checks and balances would not add up.

"You're not stealing their inheritance, Kid." John grabbed the pouch, placing it in Caleb's hand and closing his fingers over it. "You're building the goddamn family business that I never had the chance to start. I know you'll make sure they will profit from it when they need it most, give them something to build new lives on when all this mess is over."

"John, you don't know for sure that I can make this work. Hell, I don't know if I can make this work. It might blow up in my face." Caleb wanted to believe he could build something good, something true and successful from the ground up, but he had only his talent and determination to fall back on. History proved that wasn't always enough.

"Kid, I've trusted you with my most valuable assets for the last eight years. You've never let me down. Handing over fifty grand ain'tnothing."

"Fifty grand?" Caleb stuttered, concerns of his future success vanishing under John's revelation. "What the hell, Johnny? You've been sitting on fifty thousand dollars!"

John shrugged. "Give or take a few bucks I've had to ferret when we've hit hard times."

"Hard times?" As far as Caleb could see John's, and more importantly Dean and Sam's lives were one long hard time. Caleb wanted to demand to know why John had let the boys live the last eight years in squalor, why he'd denied them things he could have obviously provided, but felt his father's intense gaze, heard the soft but insistent voice in his head ordering him to tread softly.

"I know what you're thinking, Junior." Mac appeared not to be the only mind reader at the table. John picked up his beer, taking a long sip as he kept his eyes locked on Caleb. "But listen to me when I say that there's a big difference between want and need. I know you understand that because Ames or not, you weren't born with a fucking silver spoon in your mouth." John glanced at Caleb's father. "No offense, Mac."

Caleb's father let out a long suffering sigh. "I stopped being offended by your charming candor years ago, Johnathan."

John returned his gaze to Caleb. "The boys and I have always had everything we needed, a roof over our head, food on the table. I think making sure their futures were secure is a little more important than them having a top of the line ball glove, and the trendiest school fashions. Don't you?"

Caleb wasn't sure who John was trying to convince, but he made his head bob in an affirmative direction. "Yes, sir."

"Then you'll do this for me?" John kicked Caleb's boot. "Make sure I have something to leave them, when the unthinkable happens?"

Caleb nodded, a rare loss for words in face of the gift John and the others were entrusting him with. He decided to fall back on old hat, sparing them all an awkward chick flick moment. "The unthinkable, Johnny? You really expect some kind of grand pay off when Bobby finally makes an honest woman of Fiona?"

"I would hope we view the fruits of our seed sometime before Hell freezes over, my boy," Jim said.

"And we don't expect you to take your sweet time." John leaned forward. "Chase your dream now, kid, because there'll be a day when you'll be called up for duty, and you won't be able to afford to walk in two worlds."

"Though that time is in the far distant future," Mac cleared his throat. "We want you to have a real chance at this, Son, for as long as possible. We want you to be happy."

"I understand." Caleb replied, his eyes still locked with John.

"Good." Jim stood, squeezing Caleb's shoulder. "I take that this business matter is settled, then. Now if you'll excuse me, I think a visit to The Pit is called for. It isn't every day one of my boys graduates college and starts a new business venture."

"Wait? Does that mean I finally get to have some of your famous home brew?"

"You mean besides the bottle you snatched on your eighteenth birthday, and then there were those two that disappeared last year when you turned twenty-one…"

"Right," Caleb laughed. "I get it, Astorimis all knowing."

"Due in part to his trusty informant, Prince Samuel," Mac spoke up. "Who, thanks to his father's lessons in miserliness, is always quite open to making a quick buck."

"I think you've benefitted more than once from the Winchester ingenuity, Dr. Ames." John took another drink of his beer. "Which reminds me, I promised Sam I would run him into town before we picked Cullen up at the airport. It seems he recently came into some quick cash and it's burning a hole in his pocket."

"Quick cash my ass." Caleb flashed his mentor a frown. "Your son extorted my graduation funds."

John stood, slapping Caleb on the back. "If it makes you feel better, Junior, he's planning on getting you a nice gift."

"That I'm technically paying for?" Caleb faked a disapproving frown. "How is that a gift?"

"Hasn't anyone ever told you it's the thought that counts, Kid?"

"I might have heard that a few times from you, who considers suturing services, warm beer and a stick of beef jerky sufficient gifts."

"I just gave you fifty grand, Kid. I think that makes up for every birthday and Christmas I ever had your scrawny ass out in the field."

Caleb shrugged, managing a half-hearted smirk. "I guess you have a point."

"I need to make a few stops also, Johnathan." Caleb's father stood, making his way around the table. "I have yet to buy the finishing touches for Samuel's birthday present."

"Finishing touches? We've talked about you spoiling the boys, Mac…"

"You just gave my son fifty thousand dollars, and you're actually going to nitpick about a couple of more books that I might like to purchase for Samuel?"

Caleb raised a brow at John who shrugged before shaking his head in a rare moment of resignation. "I guess you have a fucking point."

"Of course I have a point." Mac locked gazes with Caleb, giving a quick wink as he passed following The Knight out the door. "I always have a point, Johnathan."

Caleb caught John's retort about the need for said point always being made with an unnecessarily long-winded and pompous speech before the door closed leaving him alone in the kitchen with Atticus, who had curled beneath the table in anticipation of the dinner that would eventually take place.

"You got something to add to the pile, Boy?" Caleb was glad the older men had mercifully left him and the large lump at the back of his throat alone, especially when his voice cracked, the betraying tears in his eyes threatening to spill over.

Atticus sat up; nudging his tattered squirrel squeaky toy onto Caleb's lap in what Caleb knew was a hope for a game of fetch or possible tug of war instead of an offering to Caleb's growing business fund.

"I'd thank you, but I guess thank you doesn't begin to cover it when you offer up something so valuable, huh?" Caleb took the toy, watching the dog's eyes gleam with anticipation.

"It's not like I could just wag my tail or lick them, now is it." Caleb swallowed hard, hoping to push down the emotions threatening to overwhelm him. He tossed the toy into the living room, watching Atticus bound after in a burst of sheer joy before returning his eyes to the incredible gift he'd received.

Caleb desperately wished he'd said something meaningfully profound to The Triad, anything that might have begun to cover what he was feeling. If it had been just about the money, just about the chance they were affording him, he might have pulled it off. A 'thank you', a heartfelt promise to make them proud, even a manly back-pounding hug, would have seemed somewhat adequate. Instead, the real debt Caleb owed those men was far greater, so much more than any simple act could atone. They had rescued him from an ocean of despair, a lost boy tumbled one too many times by tragedy, a soul fractured and broken, and helped to make him whole once more.


Love is a gift…

Dean looked up from putting the finishing touches on his work as Caleb entered the barn with a plate and drink in hand. One In A Million nickered in greeting from his stall along with Fat Chance, hoping for their usual treat of carrots or an apple picked too early from one of Jim's trees.

"Deuce, what the hell are you doing out here?" Dean assumed it was a rhetorical question when the older hunter didn't give him time to answer before babbling on as he made his way over to the wood-working table. Dean quickly used the old sheet serving as a drop cloth to cover his project. "What happened to our plan for you to distract Johnny and Rufus while I scored us the first steaks off the grill? Bobby is almost finished with the ribs and you know the condition of the meat is directly proportional to the amount of beer the Grill Master has had time to consume."

Dean snorted. "Yeah and we both know years of college cafeteria cuisine and late night raids to the Jiffy Mart have given you such a refined pallet."

"Four years at Auburn have not diminished my Ames instilled snobbery when it comes to meat." Caleb leaned against the work bench, frowning at Dean. "I refuse to eat charred leather, especially if it starts out as prime sirloin from Cullen's favorite Angus supplier."

"Chill, Damien. I've got Sammy on lookout." Dean had given his little brother the task more to keep him from under foot than in any concerns for his dinner. Sam had been his shadow since Dean's release from the hospital the day before and as much as Dean loved the kid, he was up for a little alone time. "He'll come and get me before Bobby can hand off the first run."

"That doesn't explain why you're hanging out in here when the food is outside." Caleb held up the plate brimming with corn on the cob, baked beans, bread and Missouri's famous deviled eggs. "Did you miss the fact there is a hoard of hungry hunters mulling about the farm. Jim even invited stupid Josh."

"Like stupid Josh is going to eat anything not rooted out of the ground by a pig, or scooped out of the inside of a fish. Why did he even show anyway, doesn't he have a mom?"

Caleb seemed caught off guard by the remark in a way that made Dean instantly regret bringing up the fact it was Mother's Day, a day they were supposed to be forgetting. "I'm guessing his mom insisted he come, giving her the best present possible-a Josh-free day."

"Having Josh as a son, she's probably about as excited to celebrate the day as we are."

"About that, kiddo…"

"I'm glad you had my back, though." Dean cut his friend off before they could venture into any dicey territory, the head wound making him unsure of how well he'd be able to keep his emotions under control. He focused on the plate Caleb was holding instead, concentrating on the rumblings of his stomach. He'd skipped breakfast in lieu of finishing the task he'd started on his last visit to Jim's. He reached for the dish. "I'm starving."

"Who said this was for you, Shrimp?" Caleb let the thread drop, holding the plate out of Dean's reach. Even with the recent growth spurt Dean had hit, Caleb still towered over him. The fourteen year old couldn't wait until the day he matched his best friend in height, or even better passed him up. It was times like these Dean was so glad he was an older brother. At least, he would always being taller than Sam.

"You don't like deviled eggs, dick head." Dean punched Caleb in the gut.

"Ow, you little shit." Caleb shoved the plate at Dean, rubbing his stomach. "Maybe I took them just so Missouri wouldn't smack me with her spoon. Did you think of that?"

"You could compare Missouri's county fair winning eggs to one of your pansy ass favorite works of art and Missouri still ain't leaving this party without getting at least one good thwack in." Dean grinned, shoving one of the eggs in question into his mouth. The impressive bruising to his face and the bandages on his head would buy him a free pass this go around with the Triad's Advisor. Missouri could be a real witch, but she was the best cook around and had a soft spot for wounded boys.

Caleb gave a disappointed shake of his head. "You could at least try to fake some sympathy on my part. The woman hates me."

"Talk to Sammy." Dean took another egg, eating this one slower to savor the rare treat. "She loves Sammy."

"Yeah, who doesn't? The runt is playing up the part, let me tell you." Caleb took a drink of the beer Dean was sure he had sneaked from the grown up cooler, which could just as easily explain his visit to the barn. "He's scored way more presents than me."

"He did hit double digits, Damien. Ten's a big deal." Dean grinned. enjoying goading Caleb. He'd never admit it, but Dean had missed having his friend around the last few months.

"Sam has a birthday every year," Caleb protested in expected manner. "I just graduated from a prestigious college."

"Barely." Dean set the plate down, wiped his hands on his jeans. He'd have to pace himself if he was going to make it through the two steaks, birthday cake, apple pie, and homemade peach ice cream he planned on eating. The mild concussion had slightly dulled his appetite.

"So I had a few semesters of academic probation. I didn't let that stop me. It shows my extreme perseverance."

"Or proves you lackluster IQ level."

Caleb smirked. "Either way, the bright, shiny official degree doesn't have my GPA."

"Lucky for you, Damien considering I'm betting no one's going to pay big bucks for an architect with a two point zero." Dean turned back to the table, picking at the edges of the drop cloth. He was a little worried the project might have been a stupid idea. Caleb was the artist, not him.

"Two point eight, thank you very much." Caleb snatched a roll from Dean's discarded plate, tearing off a bite. "C-plus all the way, baby."

Dean rolled his eyes. If Caleb was half the architect he thought he was going to be, there was no doubt in Dean's mind his best friend would be successful. He knew it was selfish, but Dean couldn't help but to wonder if that was going to be a good thing for him and Sam. "Let's hope mediocre in the classroom equals stellar in the field."

"Are you kidding me, Dude? This is me we're talking about." Caleb tossed a few pieces of his roll to the laying hens scratching around in one of the empty stalls. "I give my best performance in hands on situations."

Dean stopped fiddling with the cloth, glancing up at Caleb. Time apart had not diminished the ease at which Dean could come up with barbs. "Unless this new business of yours is a male escort service, you could be in trouble."

Caleb cocked a brow, offering Dean the bottle of beer. "I'll have you know, 'Tri-Corp' is going to be an outstanding success."

Dean took the beer, as thrilled as he was the first time Caleb offered him a sip of the completely off limits drink on his thirteenth birthday to toast his venture into adolescence. It tasted like crap then, almost as bad now, but Dean couldn't help the swell of pride that made him feel instantly two feet taller, six years older. He fought off the urge to choke, giving a satisfied sigh instead before handing the beer back to Caleb. "Tri-Corp?"

"That's the name of my company. You're the first to know, Deuce."

"What happened to Reaves's Grand Erections?" Dean made an exaggerated gesture with his hands. "I was thinking of a slogan, something like, 'Where they go up quick, but don't last very long. Satisfaction not guaranteed'."

"Nice." Caleb finished off the beer, tossing the bottle in a bin Jim kept in the corner of the barn. "That what you been out here working on all afternoon? Sam was beginning to worry your head might be hurting worse than you're letting on. You've been quiet today."

Dean knew for a fact that if his brother had been worried he'd have not taken Dean's instruction and would be staked to his side. He decided to cut Damien some slack and not give him a hard time about the mother hen routine. "Actually, I made you something."

"Seriously?" Caleb tried to peek under the sheet. "I don't see any crayons or red paper hearts."

Dean slapped his hand. "I'm fourteen, not four. This is more advanced than some stupid card."

Caleb folded his arms over his chest, offering a raised brow. "But is it better than the sentimental, yet whimsical Dr. Seuss book Sam bought me?"

"Oh, The Places You Will Go, Damien." Dean shook his head with a grin. "I told Sammy my first guess would be straight to Hell, but it was a sweet sentiment on the kid's part."

"I'm guessing Mac had a hand in that purchase." Caleb looked down at his chest to the neck wear he was sporting with his black tee. "Though this awesome tie with the fire-breathing red dragon had Runt written all over it."

"Who said New Haven didn't need that Asian thrift store?" Dean reached over and flicked the silk sash. "You wear this to your first bank meeting and you're a shoe in for the money."

"I was going to talk to you about that."

"If this is about a personal loan, you've come to the wrong place. Fourteen-year-old kid with a penny pincher Dad, remember?" Dean gestured to the still shrouded gift. "There is a reason I had to improvise for your present, man."

"I've seen you hustle me out of a small fortune when the need arose, Deuce."

"But what kind of gift would it be if I used your money to buy it?" Dean had no problem scoring money when it was necessary, but Pastor Jim always made a push for gifts of a different kind. He was fond of saying that the best gifts had no set monetary value because a present that spoke from a person's heart was priceless.

"Maybe you should have that discussion with your dad and kid brother." Caleb snorted. "Besides, I already have the funds for Tri-Corp."

Dean hadn't been privy to Caleb's gift from The Triad, but he gathered from Bobby's grumblings that it had not been one of Pastor Jim's preached about homemade presents. "You breakdown and accept the curse of being a trust fund kid?"

"You really are a smart ass, you know that?" Caleb mussed Dean's hair, taking much more care than usual, which Dean attributed to the head wound. Caleb could act as tough as he wanted, but Dean easily saw through the act, just like he had in the ambulance and the torturous examination in the ER that followed.

"Pot meet kettle." Dean pointed from himself to Caleb. "Sammy would tell you that you only have yourself to blame."

"I'll have you know, Mini Me, that only one of my investors was an Ames, and the money was clear and free from any ties to my old man's fortune."

"Does that mean you'll be starting right away?" Dean must have been as about as transparent as Damien when it came to hiding fear because he knew his best friend wouldn't chance reading him when Dean had a concussion. Caleb's cocky grin faded as Dean felt the tickling of that five-year-old side of himself again, the one who had made an unwanted appearance on the field Friday night. "Not that it matters to me or anything."

"What it means is that I have a whole summer to hang out with the Winchesters, let Johnny think he's whipping me back in shape instead of me pounding the pavement to find backing."

Dean couldn't stop what he was sure a goofy grin from spreading over his face at the idea of having things back to normal or at least normal for them, so he covered with an insult. "Or brooding in your typical drama queen fashion about all the rejections? It would be worse than when no one wanted to be your prom date."

Caleb groaned. "Could you please stop busting my chops and give me my damn present before the Runt sounds the alert on our steaks."

Dean didn't bother with any flourish or preamble. He pulled back the drop cloth quickly, like removing a band-aid to reveal the wooden frame he'd barely finished in time.

"It's for your degree." He gave a shrug of his shoulders. "I mean, people usually hang them on the wall of their offices, like Mac has his, and knowing how you like to show off…"

"This is great, Duece." Caleb picked up the frame, running a hand over the smooth varnished wood. "It's perfect."

Dean studied his friend's face, finding no trace of teasing or faked enthusiasm only the same kind of goofy look Caleb had once gotten when Dean had given him the leather bracelet Caleb now wore when he was 'off duty' from all things hunting. "It's no big deal, Damien. Jim helped me pick out the wood, and Sam did some of the staining. The glass came out of an old junker 67 Chevy at Bobby's, and Mac picked up the mat for me."

"I love it." Caleb met his gaze. "It'll be the first thing to go on the wall of my first office, and I wasn't kidding about it being good. This is fine craftsmanship. You can have a job with me any day."

"What about your buddy, Moose? I thought he was going to be your partner?"

"Are you kidding? Moose is just the brains of the business. You'd be part of the talent."

Dean snorted. "It worries me that you're betting on Oliver's intellect, Damien. He's a beast on the ball field, but I'm guessing his GPA makes you look like honor student material."

Caleb reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "What I'm saying is that no one can take your place as my wingman, Deuce, and if it wasn't for the promising baseball career, I'd snatch you up after high school in a heartbeat."

"Speaking of baseball," Dean shrugged off the compliment, reaching behind him for the other part of Caleb's graduation present, which he had stuffed into his backpack before leaving the hospital. "I have one more thing for you."

"Tell me it's not another tie."

Dean retrieved the trophy and handed it to Caleb. "Something for your desk, to go with the useless crystal paper weight stupid Josh brought you to score brownie points with Jim."

Caleb put down the frame, taking the fake-gold glove and ball statue. "MVP," he read from the tiny bronze plaque on the front. "Deuce, I can't take this; you more than earned it this season."

"Actually, Brody won it." Dean had never been big on acclaim, but being chosen most valuable player in a championship game was pretty cool stuff. "I think he gave it to me out of guilt, and you know how we Winchesters like to re-gift."

"No way." Caleb shook his head. "I'm pretty sure Brody knew who this belonged to. I saw that game, and it's not just my bias- you were instrumental in the Ravens' winning. They probably gave it to him because he was a senior and it was his last game."

"Brody is a top notch player, Damien. He was errorless all season."

"Right up until the bottom of the 8th when he knocked you unconscious."

Dean knew arguing Brody's stats wasn't going to win him any clemency with Caleb, but he needed Caleb to understand the significance of the present. "Do you know what makes Brody such a good player?"

Caleb frowned at Dean."His killer arm?"

"It's his repeatability."


"Baseball isn't like art." Dean struggled for the right words to make his friend understand. "I mean there are some beautiful plays, one of kind moments, but the really good players, the superstars, they're great because whatever they do good, they can be counted on to do it over and over again without fail. Like a machine."

When Caleb remained silent Dean took the lack of smart commentary as a cue that he had his friend's full attention. "That's Brody. He's always in the game, always where he needs to be, every time. The team can depend on him. A guy like me waiting on his play to save the day can depend on him."

"Should I point out your stitches, Deuce? Or the fact your little bout of unconsciousness not only scared Sam to death but shaved about five years from my life."

"So nine times out of ten is still an awesome average." Dean pushed the trophy towards Caleb. Even machines had hitches. The greatest fielders rebounded quickly, just like big brothers. They weren't infallible, but that didn't stop them from dreaming of an errorless career. "You're repeatable, Damien. I can always count on you to be there, every time."

"Except when I'm not."

"Nine times out of ten is still an awesome average."

"I'll try to step up my game, Deuce. Auburn, Tri-Corp, this whole building bridges shtick, it's not my priority." Caleb looked down at the trophy. "This will just be one more reminder of what's really valuable."

"Just don't tell Sammy I gave that to you. I gave him the game ball Coach brought me, but you know how he is about scoring the best gift."

"I'll keep it just between us."

Dean was spared the awkward hug he felt might be coming on by the banging of the door.

"What the hell are you two girls doing in here?" Bobby demanded as he barreled into the barn, still donning his official Grill Master gear. "The pastor is about to ring the dinner bell and you know good and well heain't going to let no one touch their food until the blessing's been given and all his boys are present and accounted for."

"So you're the search party?" Caleb put the trophy beside the frame, carefully covering both of them with the drop cloth. "Who's watching our steaks?"

"Sam's on grill duty with orders to stab anyone who comes near before I give the all clear."

"Sam inherited Dad's cooking skills," Dean felt beholden to point out. "He can burn water."

"All the more reason to cut the slumber party and get our asses back out there." Bobby waved them forward. "Unless I'm interrupting some Hallmark moment, which is the last thing this day needs."

"On that unpleasant note," Caleb gestured for Dean to go first.

"Before you go, Junior, I have something for you." Bobby held up a hand to stop Caleb.

"If it's pearls of wisdom, I think it might be better taken in on a full stomach."

"I don't know why I even bother sometimes." Bobby moved to one of the empty stalls, digging under the pile of horse blankets to retrieve a green bag, which he thrust at Caleb. "Here, college boy. It ain't a wad of cash, but it's something useful."

Caleb shot Dean an amused grin, digging into the army duffel reminiscent of Sam at Christmas. He came out with a shiny black hard hat and a leather tool belt, complete with hammer, level and tape measure.

"I know you're the plans man," Bobby spoke up, scratching uncomfortably at his beard. "But as the boss you'll be on the scene overseeing jobs. You want to at least look like you know what the hell you're doing, that you're prepared as the next guy."

Caleb slid on the hard hat, flashing Dean a grin. "Wow, Bobby, this reminds me of that first box of condoms you tossed in my lap before dropping me off at The Red Caboose."

"Let's hope you're more careful where you stick this head." Bobby slapped his hand on the top of the hat, eliciting a yelp from its wearer before flashing Dean a wicked grin. "STD's will be the least of your problems if somebody drops an iron beam on your ass. Not everyone is blessed with a reinforced steel skull like the Winchester spawn."

Caleb glared at the mechanic, sliding off the protective gear. "I'm not an idiot, Bobby. I happen to know what I'm doing and have the degree to prove it."

"Which is reminiscent of the speech you gave me when I sprung you out of jail a few years back for paying a hooker to spend time with you."Bobby clipped him on the head again. "Degree or not, history proves you're not always the brightest crayon in the box, Junior."

"You hired a hooker?" Dean couldn't help to be impressed. There was a reason Caleb secretly held the bar Dean aspired to. "I thought you told me real men never paid for something they could get for free."

"NO, I did not hire a hooker. She was a high class stripper, a truly talented dancer, and you're supposed to be on my side, Deuce." Caleb pointed at his chest. "Most Valuable Player, remember?"

Dean pointed a Bobby."But he's the one in charge of the two hundred dollar steaks."

"So much for loyalty."

Bobby grunted, motioning towards the door. "Stop your bitching and get your asses out here before I let stupid Josh have first dibs on the eats."

Caleb watched the mechanic leave before turning to Dean with over-exaggerated wonder. "Gee, is it just me, Beave, or is Uncle Bobby's soft side showing."

"Nothing says love like charred meat, Wally." Dean was beginning to understand why Pastor Jim believed in giving gifts from the heart. No way was anyone in their strange family going to say the actual words out loud.

"And protective head gear." Caleb set the hard hat carefully on Dean's head, fastening the tool bet around his own waist. Dean didn't miss the flash of pride that crossed over his face as he withdrew the hammer, spinning it like a side arm. "Not to mention cool toys."

"Speaking of toys…what's The Red Caboose?" Dean pushed the door open, waiting for Caleb to come alongside him.

"A fine establishment we will someday visit in the very near future ." Caleb tossed an arm over Dean's shoulders. "Oh, The Places We Will Go when you get a little older, Deuce."

"For real?"

Caleb pulled him closer as they moved across the lawn in the direction of the grill where Sam looked up from defending their dinner to give them a vigorous wave of his spatula.

"You can count on it, Deuce."

And Dean knew without a doubt that he most certainly could.


A/N: I claim to know little about baseball, but was inspired by a wonderful book called The Art of Fielding to explore Dean's love of the sport.