Home Sweet Home
A/N: Thank you so much for all the extremely kind reviews, and thank you for the patience as I took a little longer than planned to finish. Thanks also to Tidia who convinced me the epilogue was needed and made this piece much more than it would have been. On a side note, I have officially started on our new story which is set not long after Dean, Sam and Caleb officially became the Triad. Ti and I are very excited to write some things we have wanted to for a while and hope you will come along for the ride. For now, I hope you enjoy this slice of everyday life in Dean Winchester's world.
"The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."
― Maya Angelou
The rain had dwindled to a drizzle, the day growing darker still with the approaching sunset when Dean reached Caleb's place. He'd tried calling, but Caleb's phone had gone straight to voice mail. Not a good sign. The Knight rarely went incommunicado, but Dean knew he wouldn't have gone far until Dean and Sam made it back, not when he was the adult in charge. Dean supposed his best friend was never truly unreachable, considering the psychic web that connected him to those he was closest to. It kept Damien in the loop, but didn't allow for others to keep track of him. Dean would have to do things the simple way and end the attempt at exile. He hoped the six pack of beer he'd picked up on the way would soften the intrusion.
Caleb's place, or at least the beginnings of it, was only a few miles from the farm, a piece of land that had once been owned by Jim's family. The house was not much more than a frame really, a skeleton rising out of a hillside of Pine trees above a pristine valley. A promise of the incredible house it would one day be when Caleb ever got a substantial break of time to work on it, or relented and let one of Tri Corps crews come in and help him bring to life the design he had in mind.
Dean stopped at the gate, punching in the code that would allow him entrance. The elaborate fence was the first thing that went up. Caleb put it in even before he broke ground. An impressive barricade of stone and sculpted black wrought iron that somehow looked both menacing and majestic. Sam called the behemoth, The Black Dragon, and teased their Knight about adding a moat and drawbridge, though Caleb insisted it was in homage to the 'black lace' of New Orleans. Dean couldn't help smiling as he drove through, a thought of his father shaking his head at Sam's astuteness and Caleb's insufferable sentimentality.
Dean parked the Impala in what would eventually be a cobble stoned circle drive, but was now hard packed gravel. He pulled his coat around him and grabbed the beer as he got out. The wind at the top of the hillside was cooler and stronger. He'd just slammed his door when he caught site of a shadow. A silver beast came tearing around the back of the partially constructed palace. She was all broad shoulders, sinewy muscle and boxy head. The massive Pit Bull Terrier might have struck terror in a guy's heart if not for the ragged pink teddy bear clutched firmly between her killer jaws. Guinevere. The lady of the house.
"Hey, Winnie." Dean kneeled, just as the overgrown pup slid to a halt in front of him. Her compact body writhed with uncontrollable glee at the sound of her name, ecstatic at company. She dropped her beloved toy at Dean's feet, looking up at him with pleading eyes. "Pick it up. Pick it up,' she seemed to say. 'I dare you.'
The bear was a loving cast off from Mary given to the shivering mess of a puppy when Juliet carted it home from her clinic six months ago. It was missing an eye, the bear, not Guinevere, and was wet with sticky dog slobber. Dean reverently picked it up and smothered a laugh as Guinevere reclaimed it from him with fervor.
"Where's your old man?" Dean indulged the dog in a quick session of keep away, rubbing her belly when she flipped over. "Where's Caleb?"
Winnie whined at the sound of her owner's name, made it to her feet once more. She chomped on the bear, looking to the house and then back at Dean. Intelligence sparked in her light gray eyes. Dean wondered if she knew something was up with her human. The pup had liked Caleb from the get go, as most animals did. Still, it had taken Juliet some work to convince Caleb it was time he had a dog of his own.
Juliet O'Neill was never as tenacious as she was when trying to sell someone on an animal. She explained to Dean's best friend that taking Guinevere was a grown up move for Caleb, a perfect next step after building a house. When Caleb countered that the house didn't even have a roof yet, Juliet said dogs liked the Hilton too. Juliet said a puppy was a woman magnet, since the children were growing up and no longer had the same allure they did as toddlers, Winnie could come in handy. Caleb denied needing any help in the women department, canine or child. They all knew The Knight was not above using his godsons and two adorable nieces to get phone numbers while strolling through Central Park or cruising downtown Manhattan.
Juliet resorted to guilt, contending Caleb owed it to her for all the times he'd brought puppies to her and Dean's children, for the years she'd spent feeding and housing, not only them, but him as well. Caleb had showed no chagrin, smiling and proclaiming Juliet loved every minute of taking care of him. She had basically agreed to care and feed for him as long as they both shall live when she hooked up with Dean on a permanent basis, legal marriage license or not. They were a package deal. Dean had wisely pleaded the fifth.
Then in a brilliant stroke of genius Juliet explained to Caleb how Pit Bulls had once been bred as nannies for the charge of children from wealthy European royalty. The dogs were courageous, protective, and devoted to their wards. She insisted if Caleb himself had been born canine, he would have been a Pit Bull Terrier. The tactical move she made next was just as effective, but had not been one Juliet planned. She told how Pit Bulls were now feared, misunderstood. They were the demons of dog breeds. Juliet lamented poor breeding practices, irresponsible dog owners and unfair press. She hadn't even noticed the change in Caleb's posture, the charge of emotions Dean had picked up from his best friend.
The word could turn Caleb's heart to stone, have him drawing his sword thirsty for blood; or just as instantly turn his well constructed defenses to rubble and send him scampering off with his tail between his legs. In Winnie's case, the outcome had been a happy one. But as Dean stood and followed the Pit Bull princess around to the back of the house, he couldn't help to worry at what damage the word demon had caused his friend this time. Juliet's slip had been naïve, unintentional, ignorant of any harm it might cause. James, in typical Winchester fashion, had wielded the word like a weapon.
Dean and Guinevere found Caleb in what would someday be the kitchen of the house, its row of windows catching the morning light from the east. It was now aglow with a couple of electric lanterns suspended from extension cords. Caleb was pounding a nail into a frame, didn't look up until he had driven in three more. When he did put down the hammer he was not surprised or particularly glad to see Dean.
"Hey," Caleb petted Winnie who'd gone to sit by his feet. "You're back."
Dean snorted at the similar words James had spoken earlier. Even Caleb's posture was similar, put upon celebrity tired of being hounded, but trying to be gracious.
"Damien." Dean set the beer on the sub flooring as a peace offering, folded his arms over his chest.
"Deuce." Caleb's mouth twitched. "The gig go okay?"
"You're right about Fisher's son. He's a loud mouth, but a decent recruit. He won't be getting a ring anytime soon, but I'm not going to blackball him just because of his father." Dean could do small talk. "I hear your day was a lot more interesting."
"You talked to James." Caleb grabbed a beer, flipped a five gallon bucket over for a seat.
"Yelled, talked. Winchester semantics." Dean took a beer for himself, closing the lid of Caleb's toolbox so he could claim it for a chair. He eyed his friend carefully. It was late October; a hint of early winter in the night air, but Caleb had worked up a good sweat. He'd stripped down to a short sleeve shirt and the wet patch on the shoulder caught Dean's attention. Even black didn't hide fresh blood.
"The kid didn't do anything wrong." Caleb took a drink of the beer, met Dean's gaze. "This is all on me."
"You're hurt." Dean gestured to the stain.
Caleb glanced at his shoulder. "It's no big deal."
Dean ignored the assurance, reaching over to lift the sleeve. It was battle triage at best, hastily wrapped on the run. Dean would lay money Caleb hadn't touched it since. The bandage was soaked through. "Looks like you need some stitches."
"What I need is to get back to work." Caleb made to stand but Dean latched onto his wrist.
"Not until I patch you up." Dean didn't mean just the arm.
"You're a pain in the ass, you know that."
Dean grinned. "I missed you too, Damien."
The studio was the one room that was roofed and had more than studs for walls. A high exposed ceiling of rough hewn wood beams somehow gave the illusion of warmth despite the lack of heat in the house. Dean stripped off his jacket, tossing it over a ladder. More generator fed lights hung from the rafters. There was an easel in the center of the floor and a stool, which Dean pulled over for Caleb. He noticed the blank canvases stacked neatly on the floor near the two stained glass windows Brother Benjamin had let Caleb take after he renovated Jim's old office at the church. One displayed the crucifixion, the setting sun glowing behind it. The other was a depiction of the birth of Christ, the baby Jesus swaddled in a barn. Jim always said he loved the irony of the two; how hope could be found in the brightest most joyful moments, but also in what seemed the darkest times when all seemed lost. Both depicted great gifts. Jim's desk had set in front of the windows for years. Dean thought it only fitting that Caleb would put them in his studio. Art was in many ways his religion.
"Don't you have better things to do than play nursemaid? I swear sometimes you've grown a uterus." Caleb took a seat on the stool with a put upon sigh. Winnie dropped near his feet, resting her head on her bear. "Isn't Ben home from New York?"
"He is." Dean had found the first aid kit easy enough. It had probably made its way here not long after the impenetrable gate. He flipped it open, grabbing scissors to cut away Caleb's attempt at a bandage. "Which is one of the reasons I thought you were staying for dinner. What happened to our plans for guys' night?"
"I really need to get some work in. I'm heading out for a hunt in Texas tomorrow."
"Since when?" Dean tossed the bloody strips in the industrial sized garbage can Caleb had pulled from one of Tri-Corps job sites. "I don't remember doling out any assignments."
Caleb glanced up at him. "Since when do I need The Guardian to hand me a gig? I actually have a life of my own you know."
"So this is about you asserting your independence, and has nothing to do with what happened at the Wakefield House?"
"I don't need to assert anything, damn it." Caleb hissed when Dean poured peroxide over the cut. "I've been hunting longer than you, and I was The Knight before you were The Guardian."
Dean studied the wound, deep and clean, from a blade of some sort. "Technically, you weren't The Knight until our Triad was sworn in. So, we have the same seniority date."
"You forget I was forced to pull knightly duty long before John died."
"I haven't forgotten, Damien." Dean dug for a suture kit, tried to ignore the ache the mention of his father's disappearing act and subsequent death brought. He had too much other pain to deal with. "I haven't forgotten anything."
"Then cut me some slack here."
"You've paid your dues." Caleb had sacrificed plenty in the name of The Brotherhood, but he'd sacrificed more to help the Winchesters. "You can hunt whatever the hell you like; you don't need my permission to do it."
Dean tore the suture kit open. "But this has nothing to do with you taking a solo gig and you know it."
"Deuce." Caleb jerked when the needle pierced the edge of skin Dean was pinching together. "Just let it go."
Dean couldn't let it go anymore than he could let his idiot best friend walk around with a bleeding wound. Hidden injuries were almost always more dangerous, deadly even. "James said you were attacked by demons."
"A demon, as in one."
"One is trouble enough don't you think? Is that how you got this?" Dean continued to repair the gash, making the stitches tight and neat like Mac had taught them. For all their expertise, and Mac's attempt at teaching finesse, their bodies were still a patchwork of scars. Caleb had pulled his shirt off for Dean to work. In the harsh lighting his friend's battle record stood out in stark relief against his tanned skin, like white ridges marking mountains on a map. Caleb's worst scar though was unseen. It was one Dean shared. A boy didn't watch his mother be murdered and walk away unscathed. When a child's world burned down around him it left marks. Horrible. Ugly. Permanent.
The clipped answer and dour glower warned Dean to drop the subject, but he'd always been immune to Caleb's John Winchester imitation. "Since when do poltergeists and ghosts wield blades?"
There was a long bout of silence, broken only by Caleb's pained breath. Dean was about to open his mouth to offer some kind of levity, but Caleb spoke first. "It was your knife."
"James did this?" Dean had given the blade to his youngest son not long after James abilities had first come online. The kid had shown guts, telling Mac about the spirit of the murdered girl who had come to him. He'd even, although unwillingly, helped his dead classmate share her story. Mac had called in the FBI, and the girl's stepfather would spend the rest of his life in jail. More importantly, James had helped the girl's spirit find peace, kept her from a far worse fate that James could not truly comprehend, but that Dean and his Triad understood all too well. Dean marked the occasion of James's first step into adulthood by giving him the knife that had been passed from John to Caleb on his first hard hunt, then from Caleb to Dean, when Dean had risked life and limb to save Sam.
"He was terrified." Caleb glanced at Dean, who hadn't realized he'd stopped stitching, his hand hovering above the bleeding wound. "Out of his mind."
"All the more reason to watch a man's hands." As soon as he'd spoken Dean realized Caleb wasn't the only one guilty of sounding a lot like John Winchester. It was a reflex when Dean was at a loss, an old habit born of the inability to deal with any situation out of his control. Sam called it their 'dad default switch'.
"We were under attack by spirits. I was trying to get the mojo bag back on him so I could deal with the bastards. Besides, James isn't the first Winchester to try and finish me off." Caleb had the audacity to give a half-hearted smile. If it hadn't been the first hint of the Caleb that Dean was used to, Dean would have smacked the bastard. "Sammy shot me, and if I remember right, you used the very same knife to try and gut me."
"That's not funny." Dean started stitching again, taking a sadistic bit of satisfaction when Caleb grunted. Dean knew what his Knight was playing at. Dean had been a terrified kid once too, out of his mind over his first hard kill. He'd delivered a very similar wound to his best friend when Caleb tried to wake him from a nightmare.
"Maybe not, but it is damn ironic." Caleb took a deep breath and gestured to the scar just above where Dean was stitching. "You gave me that one. Remember?"
"Too bad you're a slow learner." Dean shook his head. "The kid could have killed you and I'd be planning a funeral and years of therapy for Jimmy instead of pondering a fitting punishment for the kid."
"No punishment." Caleb pulled away, glaring up at Dean. "I mean it, Deuce. This was not his fault."
"Maybe not." Dean reclaimed Caleb's arm none too gently and started stitching again. "But what about the things he said? What he called you?"
"He didn't say anything that wasn't true, Deuce."
"We both know truth has various shades of gray." Dean stopped stitching again, met Caleb's gold gaze. "You're not a demon, Caleb, not even close."
"Maybe." Caleb nodded, averting his gaze to Dean's handiwork. "But I should have explained things to them a long time ago. James didn't say anything worse to me than I said to John Winchester on countless occasions, sans the demon part, but still I called the old man everything but."
"The difference being, dad probably deserved everything you dished out and more." Dean started to work again, thankful he was being more productive with the arm than with his Knight's psyche.
"My point is we all say things we don't mean when we're pissed, when we're hurt. James was hurt. I didn't protect him."
"The kid is fine. Not a scratch on him." Dean had made sure.
"It's the wounds you can't see that can be the most dangerous."
Dean snorted at their parallel thinking, almost called one of their infamous pot and kettle moments. Instead he gave his most serious 'Listen to what I'm saying' looks. "You were trying to train him to block simple spirits, man. A walk in the park for you."
"Not for Jimmy," Caleb countered. "You have no idea what it's like having something or someone trying to get in your head, to crawl into your space, to breech every part of what makes you what you are. It's an invasion. Learning to fight it off is like learning to walk or feed yourself for the first time."
Dean knew he wasn't able to comprehend what his son was going through. He'd experienced the same sort of helplessness with Sam. It was frustrating he couldn't help him, couldn't protect him; but he was also immensely grateful he had Caleb and Sam. They could offer James what Dean could not. "It wasn't like you had any reason to expect a demon to show up."
"Maybe I should have. Weird things had been happening at the house for the last week or so."
"Like what?" Dean tied off the last stitch and tossed the needle in the trash. He dug in the first aid kit for the antibiotic cream and bandages as he waited for Caleb to answer.
"Like a crazy increase in spiritual activity."
"The Wakefield place has always been a hubbub of spiritual activity. It's why Jim kept it from being burned to the ground. It was a Civil War hospital, full of suffering and miserable deaths. Bad shit is expected."
"I know that." Caleb ran his hands through his hair, rolling his shoulder after Dean taped off the fresh bandage. "But it's never drawn anything like this, Deuce. Mayfield has cold spots, orbs, ectoplasm, some residual haunting, even some intelligent haunting, which is why I took James there in the first place, but other things came once we started working. We're talking poltergeists and ghouls, even some astral projections."
"That's weird." Dean grabbed the only other chair in the room, a state of the art collapsible camp chair including a built in cooler that Caleb took to ballgames. "The place has been a negative energy draw for almost a century, but it's never looked like a gate or a vortex."
"Exactly." Caleb nodded. "At first I thought it was the level of training we were doing. I mean, psychic output is a beacon to spiritual entities. Hell, I can cause a spike just by walking in a room. I mean that's why Missouri taught me to shield like hell and why I've been spending so much time on it with Jimmy."
"But?" Dean recognized the pregnant pause, the look in Caleb's eyes told Dean he was not going to like what his friend had to say.
"But I think this was more than a spike. I think something caused a ripple, maybe even a sonic boom, more like what we send out when we use Triad magic."
"Damn." Dean rubbed his eyes. They had learned the hard way that using Triad magic came with a price, especially if you didn't know how to do it discreetly. It was akin to a fourth of July fireworks show on the mystic plane. Joshua had utilized his skill as a crafter perfecting 'quiet' ways to utilize the mysterious force that Guardian, Knight and Scholar could summons when working together. "That might explain the demon. Power draws the bastards like aunts to a picnic."
"He was salivating, that's for sure." Caleb twisted his hunter's ring on his finger. "There was something else, too, Deuce. Something I've encountered only a couple of times..."
Dean was almost afraid to push. He'd come here expecting to smooth over Damien's ruffled feathers, to ease his best friend's bruised soul and to make sure he, like James, was physically in one piece. Dean now felt like the one who might need patching back together. "Tell me."
Caleb sighed. "A vulture, fucking soul scavenger. Like when you were in a coma after the wreck with the semi and then again at the pond, the night the hell hounds..."
"A reaper?" Dean interrupted. Thoughts of Death's minions had him pushing himself out of the chair. It folded shut on its own with a snap that startled Guinevere, and had her leaning in close to Caleb with a rumbling whine. "You felt a reaper."
"Not just one. A few, hell, maybe a half dozen. The spirits went crazy when they showed up, trying to connect with Jimmy-maybe trying to get his help. It was like a bee swarm. All I could think of was that time when you were eight and you knocked that hive down at our feet with that fucking baseball. How the bees kept stinging you and I couldn't get them off. Jimmy looked just as startled, just as confused as to what was happening as you did back then. Just as scared. I panicked. Even I couldn't block them. I kept trying to get the mojo bag back on him, to keep him shielded. He lashed out with the knife, not understanding that the attack was coming from inside his mind."
"What the hell, Damien?" Dean paced back and forth. "You should have gotten clear before things got that far."
"I know, I know." Caleb held up his hands in a gesture to calm Dean. It only made Dean feel more panicked. If Caleb was maintaining his cool, trying to talk Dean down, the biggest blow hadn't come yet. "I noticed the odd energy last week, but didn't make the connection. I felt it again today, remembered why it made me want to piss my pants. I was about to get us out of there when the damn demon showed up."
"What do you think it means? It's not like reapers to hang around unless they have an assignment." Dean refused to ask the question burning his tongue, but Caleb must have read his thoughts, which were morose and consuming.
"I don't think they were there for me or James, at least not in the way you're thinking. I think they wanted to watch our training, or maybe, they might have been there to protect James."
Dean went cold. His heart slammed into hyper speed. He could feel it pounding against his chest. "What are you talking about?"
"I wasn't prepared for the demon. It got the upper hand right off the bat. It had me pinned against the wall, was taunting James with all the sordid details about good old Azazeal and his connection to me. He told James how I had some protection considering what and who I was, but that didn't mean he couldn't eat The Guardian's son for dinner. He might have, but something tore him apart."
"The reapers." Dean shoved both hands through his hair.
"They have the ability. They usually remain neutral."
"So why not this time? Why help us out? Is Jimmy that powerful?" Dean knew Caleb didn't talk much about James's budding abilities because Dean was sensitive about the subject. Even after his youngest son was born with all the markings, including an intact cowl covering his face, Dean leaned towards it all being superstition, which considering his background was ridiculous. Dean had learned that nothing, not even a lifetime of experience could stand up to the power of parenting blinders-that amazing ability for well-meaning mothers and fathers to see only what they wanted to see. Dean had fooled himself into believing that James could still have a completely normal life, maybe his abilities would never rear their ugly head.
"In a purely psychic sense, I don't think so." Caleb pinched the bridge of his nose, sighed. "I mean, he can block, he can evade, but he can't project. He's not even on Sam's level when it comes to telepathic communication."
"Meaning he's minor league." Dean understood his brother's abilities, though strong for a Scholar and extremely rare for a human, were not exactly stellar when it came to the spectrum of psychics. Death visions and the ability to read minds weren't exactly 'active' gifts. Sam and Caleb's abilities were similar to some degree, but had a vast range between them. Both had mothers who had been purportedly 'gifted' to some degree, and both were linked to Azazeal, the yellow-eyed demon who had murdered said mothers. Sam was tainted by ingesting the demons blood as a baby. He hadn't developed quite the array of talent as Caleb, who had been genetically linked to the bastard through Noah Seaver. He also hadn't had the horrific side effects that Caleb suffered from being a psychic of his magnitude, including almost dying from a bizarre brain tumor and numerous attempts on his life by radicals who thought him too dangerous. If James had to be psychic, Dean hoped he was more like Sam, possibly linked to his grandmother, Mary Winchester, and maybe his psychic abilities were merely a sign that one day he might be in line to be The Scholar of The Brotherhood.
"He's not like me, if that's what you're worried about, Deuce."
"Stop reading me, damn it." It was said without any heat. Caleb even smiled. Dean felt guilty for his thoughts. "Why do I feel a big 'but' coming on, Damien?"
"Because I think James's abilities are something else entirely different." Caleb gestured to his head. "It's not like I can actually hear or see spirits. I pick up on their energy. I can't converse with them. James doesn't sense their presence like a regular psychic. He sees them, Deuce. He has conversations with them. Hell. He can touch them."
"I thought Mac said he should never let them touch him."
"I didn't say it was a good thing. I just said he could do it."
"Those are things a reaper can do." Dean hadn't meant to speak out loud. He knew keeping the thought to himself was a moot point with Caleb. "You think my son is some kind of reaper in training, don't you?"
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to, damn it."
"Don't borrow trouble, man. We don't know what any of this means. " Caleb sighed. "I knew you'd freak out."
"And here I thought you ran away from home so you wouldn't have to face the boys." Dean shook his head at his friend. "You didn't want to see me. You didn't want to tell me any of this."
"Not until I knew more." Caleb shrugged. "Would it make you feel better if I said Jimmy did hurt my feelings, and that I might have even cried a few tears-only on the inside, but still?"
Dean refused to be comforted by his best friend's attempt at humor. "The gig in Texas you mentioned, does that have anything to do with you getting more information."
"I have a line on a Coyote in Austin."
"Great." Dean scrubbed a hand over his three day growth of beard. Coyote's were a few steps above a zombie in his book, although they liked to think of themselves as afterworld entrepreneurs. They were still corpses with a new lease on life, keeping their corporeal forms by striking deals to run errands between the veil. Natural conmen, slick as they come and soulless. Dean was convinced most of them were car salesmen and Ponzi scam artists in their former lives. "Now The Triad is going to the underbelly of the supernatural world."
"Not The Triad." Caleb frowned. "Me."
"You're not going alone, idiot."
"Why dirty your hands, Deuce? This could lead to nothing."
"Because this is about my son."
"And you don't trust me to handle it?"
"Don't be stupid. I'm just not willing to let you risk yourself because you think this is somehow your fault."
Caleb pressed the heel of his hands against his eyes. Dean wondered just how much of a headache the psychic warfare had given The Knight. "Maybe we're getting worked up over nothing."
"Or maybe this is Death getting the last laugh for all the times we've cheated him." Dean sank onto the stool Caleb had vacated. Guinevere propped her head on his boot and thumped her tail against the floor in empathy. Dean had a sudden pang of longing for his father, a stroke of empathy for the man who had faced a similar situation with his youngest son. Dean was only just beginning to realize the burden his father carried for so many years, the lengths he went to for Sam to keep him from a possible fate that was far worse than death. "What if my son has to pay the price?"
"James isn't going to be anyone's pawn. He has too much of his grandfather in him."
"Are you trying to make me feel better or worse?" Dean glared at Caleb. "Do you forget Jimmy's first words were 'I win'? Have you watched him on the soccer field? I love that kid with every fiber of my being, but I also recognize he has a need to conquer everything in his path anyway possible. He can be relentless, and we both know that's not very far from being ruthless."
"You're seriously worried Jimmy will go dark side?" Caleb looked as if Dean had hit him.
"You're telling me it has never crossed your mind?" Dean appreciated Caleb's dogmatic belief in the best in his people, especially Winchesters. Dean was a realist above all else and he'd seen what power could do to even the best intentioned. He'd watched it happen to his little brother, felt his own soul twisted by it.
"Hell no." Caleb shook his head. "Not even once."
"Is this complete faith in James because of the whole body swapping incident between him and Sammy? The fact you and 'future' James shared a moment of bonding?"
"It has nothing to do with the James of the future and everything to do with James's father."
Dean laughed, rubbing the back of his neck where muscles that had relaxed during his three day reprieve were starting to knot tighter than ever. Caleb kept his biggest reserve of blind faith for Dean. "You forget James's father is pretty damn ruthless. The kid is a little too much like his old man for his own good. Why the hell do you think I'm so worried?"
"And yet, you've never gone dark side. Compared to you, James's life is pie. You lost your mom, Johnny, and you spent forty years in hell being tortured by demons. Never once did you turn. You've stayed on the right path." Dean opened his mouth to point out that he wasn't exactly 'golden'. He had gone to Hell because of his arrogance, because of his willingness to do absolutely anything for his family. He'd taken lives, caused deaths by proxy all in the name of revenge for his parent's murders, but Caleb rushed on. "And you have power at your fingertips every day, Deuce. Ancient Triad power that you hold back on using unless it's a last resort. Power you use for good every day as The Guardian. Jimmy might have a big dose of John Winchester in him, but he has your heart. Trust me; he's going to be one of the good guys. Reaper or not, he'll be just fine."
It was everything Dean wanted to hear, needed to hear, but he had his own dogmatic streak. "We need to know what we're facing and how to handle it. We have to protect him from this."
"And we will."
"What about the whole demon thing?"
"Like you said, I think it was drawn by the power surge, nothing more." Caleb shrugged. "Or maybe it was just karma screwing me over. I should have told them all when I told Ben."
"I was talking about you and Jimmy, not the actual demon?"
"I thought we'd covered that. I'm a big boy. James is a kid. I'm not a demon. Yada. Yada Yada. I'm fine, Deuce, really."
"You're going to have to talk to him. The other boys, too." Dean had learned to leave the 'that's an order' unsaid, unless absolutely necessary he make it clear to his Knight that what he was suggesting was an actual command.
"Heart to hearts with the boys isn't really my thing."
"Fine." Dean slapped his hands together. He'd also learned that manipulation worked better than directives. "Then you can help Jimmy paint the doors of the house when we get back from Texas."
"Deuce, I thought we agreed on no punishment."
"What you see as punishment, I see as a growth of character opportunity. A chance to work through issues."
"You mean you see it as a chance for a free labor opportunity."
"Winchester semantics." Dean shrugged, knowing he'd get his way and Caleb would cave. Juliet had not been off the mark when she related Caleb to a Pit Bull Terrier. He was devoted and loyal to his charges. "With you lending him a hand, it shouldn't take too long. Hell, I'll even have Max and JT join in seeing as how they helped destroy the house while I was gone. Ben could probably use some physical labor. Maybe they could do the whole house and then the barn. Afterwards they can come up here and help you out on finishing up Castle Grayskull and..."
"Stop." Caleb held up a hand to keep Dean from continuing. "I'll have a heart to heart with James, damn it."
"Good," Dean slapped his best friend on the back. "Because we both know you're still crying on the inside."
Caleb glared. "So we're clear, this is not a fucking castle. It's just a house."
Dean would concede that point to let Caleb regain some ground. Besides, he couldn't have agreed with his Knight more. As magnificent as it might be, a house was just a house. Sticks and mortar, shelter from the storm, just like the rambling old farmhouse down the road where they had spent so much of their boyhoods. Four walls and floors didn't make a home. People did, the ones a guy was lucky enough to call family, the ones who loved you unconditionally. He tossed an arm around his best friend's shoulder, intent on taking him and Winnie back to a dinner of cold pizza from Gino's, back to Sam, the boys, their wild pack of dogs, back to where they both belonged.
"Come on, Damien. Let's go home."
Caleb hesitated just outside his old bedroom door. It had not been his room in years, not since Ben came to live at the farm. The fifteen year old staked out the space as his own. Caleb had been glad to give it up, easily finding common ground with Dean's eldest, who had just lost every bit of family he thought he had when his mother died from cancer. But even now, the door evoked strong emotions in Caleb, stirred tender feelings of home. This room, the farm had been the first place he'd felt safe after his own parent's deaths. Even at his Grandmother Ruth's home, Caleb had felt like a ghost haunting the place with the biggest part of him had died with his mother and father. Here at the farm, in this very room, Caleb had felt the first spark of life return.
It was the place Pastor Jim brought him after rescuing him from Daniel Elkins failed exorcism. Caleb had awoken the next morning in the small upstairs room to find his sparse belongings from his year and a half on the foster care circuit tucked away in a chest of drawers, a picture of his parents on the dresser, and the quilt Ruth made him folded neatly at the bottom of the bed. Atticus Finch was curled next to Caleb, and the great neurosurgeon Mackland Ames was asleep in the rocking chair by Caleb's bed.
The word stuck in Caleb's throat, choking him. He blinked back the burning in his eyes and wrapped his knuckles on the door twice before pushing it slightly open. The lamp on the desk was on, casting a warm glow across honey oak floors. James looked up from the book he was reading, but didn't say anything. Hair fell across his brow in a dark wave, but the look he gave Caleb was far from the angry scowl the teen had worn all the way home from the Wakefield place.
"JT's in my room." James looked toward the adjoining door. "Max is spending the night."
"What else is new?" Caleb took James's explanation as an invitation and entered. The boys often switched when company, mostly Max, was over. James's room still held the twin beds that he and JT had occupied when Ben was still living at the farm, the same ones Sam and Dean had used when Caleb still laid claim to the 'big room'. "I'm not looking for JT."
"Good thing." James sat up straighter with another glance toward his room. "He and Max are in some kind of marathon session of War Lords. They swore death to anyone who disturbed them."
"Your dad should just let Max move in here on a permanent basis, charge Josh child support."
"Or maybe after your place is finished, he'll just vanquish Max and JT over there." James closed the book, drummed his fingers on top.
Caleb would have recognized the journal anywhere. It was John Winchester's. He took a seat on the edge of the bed, careful of a sleeping Porthos, who was snoring softly atop what looked like the chewed remains of a Nerf football. "Or you could just move in with me and spare yourself the agony of dealing with those two. You know you're my favorite."
James pushed his hair out of his eyes, glanced up at Caleb. "You know I know you tell us all that depending on the situation."
Caleb shrugged. "Doesn't mean I don't mean it each and every time I say it."
"Would there be chores? A curfew?"
"For me to stay on your dad's good side there would have to be some rules." Caleb took note of the other opened journals scattered about on the floor along with aged papers and ancient texts. Some he recognized, others he didn't. James was retreating to safe ground, much like Caleb had by going to pound on some nails.
"Would you pay me an allowance?"
Caleb snorted. "Always working an angle, aren't you?"
"Grandpa says I have an eye for the bottom line."
"Dad would know. It's one of the qualities all Ames men admire."
"It would have to be more than I'm getting now." James sat up straighter now that they had verged onto one of his favorite topics. Money. "I mean a kid's allowance should be based on some formula equation dependent on their parent's combined gross income. I make squat now. That should change if I was living with a multi-millionaire."
"I lived with Mac, Kid. He didn't even believe in giving kids cash."
"I'm okay with stocks." A gleam lit the kid's gray eyes. "Mac lets me keep track of my portfolio he started for me when I was born. Along with the raise in funds, I'd want the room with the jet tub and full access to the entertainment room and exercise pool."
"Since when is there an exercise pool?"
"If you want me as a roommate there needs to be some perks." James gave his first hint of a smile, a dimple on one cheek winking. "I'm used to a certain standard of living you know."
"Kid, you've lived your whole life in a farmhouse with hundred year old plumbing. Your tubs have claws and handheld shower units. The closest thing you've ever had to an exercise pool is the pond you share with cows and wretched geese."
"Maybe I should have said I have high expectations for myself."James's scowl returned. Caleb took note of the faster than lighting switch. James was never an easygoing kid, always quick to keep everyone on their toes, taking people to task. That had only increased as he'd hit puberty.
"In my day we called those delusions of grandeur." It was easy to forget that there was another side to James, one that was empathetic and caring, funny and genuine. Caleb let the teasing drop when James continued to frown. "But those aren't always bad things to have."
"Uncle Sam said they can be, not the delusions of grandeur, but the unrealistic expectations." James fiddled with the silver dragon pendant resting against his chest. "He said they can be dangerous when we apply them to people instead of personal goals."
"That sounds like your Uncle Sam."
James glanced up at Caleb from beneath a dark fringe of lashes, looking much more like the little boy who used to beg to come and stay with him, exercise pool or not. "Uncle Sam said he had to learn that lesson the hard way. That it cost him a lot of time with his dad and with my dad. He wants me to have an easier path than what he had."
Caleb knew that's what every good parent wanted. He might not have been James's father, but he wanted the same thing for the kid. For JT, Ben and Max, too. "He's The Scholar for good reason. You should listen to him, Jimmy."
"It's James." Middle School James made a sudden reappearance. He folded long arms over his thin chest and thrust out his jaw. Unlike JT and Max, the kid had yet to grow into his own skin. He looked a lot like a giraffe, all jutting angles and sharp apexes, nowhere near the daunting embodiment Caleb knew he was trying for.
"That sounds like your Uncle Sam, too." Caleb hid his grin, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He looked James in the eyes and decided to stop dancing around the subject. "I'm sorry I'm not what you expected, that I somehow failed to live up to the standard of who you thought I was."
"Who are you?" James's voice shook. "What are you?"
James was a kid who needed to know things. Information was his control mechanism. He was a lot like Sam and Mac in that way. Caleb had to come to realize it was just how they were wired. The more they knew, the more they thought they could control things. He pointed to John's journal, and then waved a hand over the others. "What did all your research tell you?"
"Not much." James shrugged. "Grandpa John never mentions you. He doesn't talk about Dad or Sam either. I'm guessing that he did that to protect you all. I did find several references in Daniel Elkins journal to 'The Seaver Child'. Considering the context, I figured Seaver was an anagram for Reaves."
Caleb hated that Daniel Elkins name could bring the hairs on the back of his neck to attention. The man had been dead for years. The name Seaver held power over him when it hadn't been used in over a century. "Where did you get your hands on Elkins' journal?"
"Dad keeps the interesting ones in a special place in The Tomb." James looked only slightly repentant. "I'm very observant."
Caleb snorted. "I don't call you Einstein Jr. for nothing."
James picked up the dragon pendant, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger. "I tried to ask Uncle Sam about it after dad left tonight."
"And what did The Scholar have to say on the subject." Caleb had a pretty good idea that Sam was not going to be overly talkative. Caleb coming clean with the boys pretty much opened the door for Sam to do the same. It was not something they had actually agreed on, their pact of omission, but it was more of a silent agreement, an understanding only they shared, like their passion for bowling.
"He told me that it was your story to tell and yours alone. That I wouldn't find the answers I wanted in any book, only more questions." James met Caleb's gaze, paused before continuing. "He did say that you were a man who had saved more lives than he could count; that you had saved his life over and over again. He told me that when he was a little kid he had very few certainties to hold onto, but that two of them were that on a bad night Caleb Reaves could always be counted on to show up with a pizza and that he always, always took care of Dean Winchester."
Caleb tried for a smirk. "I should own stock in Dominos."
James continued on undaunted by the redirect. "Uncle Sam said that the only truth I needed to know, what I needed to understand, was that you were his brother and Dad's brother in every single way that mattered. You were mine and JT's uncle as much as he was, maybe even more so because you believed in the possibility of us, even when he didn't, even when Dad didn't."
Caleb was momentarily rendered speechless by Sam's declaration, so James kept talking and Caleb was grateful, certain he couldn't speak around the massive lump that had sprung to his throat.
"I know all those things Uncle Sam told me are true, but I also need to know if what that demon said is true."
Caleb swiped a hand over his eyes, silently cursing Dean for making him endure this emotional shit that was almost as torturous as listening to the demon blow apart his well-constructed ego. He took a deep breath, glancing to his mother's painting that had hung on the wall since Dean and Caleb had stolen it from a collector when Caleb was in college. It was the one thing that had remained the same in the bedroom over the years. Caleb figured Dean had made sure the ocean scene had never been touched.
"When I told you boys that demons always lie, what I should have said is they love to twist the truth, shaping it so that it suits their purposes."
"That's not exactly an answer." James pushed, needing more, needing to regain the ground Caleb knew he felt he'd lost when he was caught so off guard by the demon's revelation. Caleb understood well that in James's mind the demon hadn't been dangerous because it could easily rip him to shreds. Like his father, James was pretty much fearless to a point that terrified Caleb, but because it held information vital to James, information James had not been privy to. Information was power and thus dangerous.
He reminded Caleb so much of Sam at his age that it brought a wave of nostalgia. Caleb once more fought to keep control of his emotions. He cursed John Winchester for running out on them before ever getting to enjoy the fruits of his tireless efforts to save his sons. Thinking of his mentor's diligence gave him the courage to give James what he wanted, what he needed no matter how much it cost.
"Back in the late 1800's there was a man named Noah Seaver, who was a preacher out in Wyoming."
"A preacher like Pastor Jim?"
"No." Caleb's voice was sharp. "He was nothing like Pastor Jim. Pastor Jim wanted to lead people to the God he served and loved. He wanted only to save them. Noah Seaver was a fucking tyrant. He wanted people to follow him. He wanted them to serve him, he wanted power. He wanted to be a god."
"He was your great grandfather?"
"Great, great, grandfather," Caleb clarified as if adding distance made him any less connected to the bastard. "He summoned a demon using a very old, very powerful amulet that allowed the demon to possess him in an unusual way, to blend with him completely. In many regards Azazeal became Noah Seaver and somewhere along the way got his wife pregnant. It seems he had a brilliant plan to start a new race, a race of demon hybrids that would be human, but also keep the unique abilities and powers that come along with being a demon."
"Azazeal is the demon who killed my grandmother."
"Yes." Caleb sighed. "But he killed a lot of other people along the way. Including Noah Seaver's entire parish by locking them in the church and burning it to the ground. Men, women and children, half the whole damn town died."
"But Noah Seaver and his wife got away?"
"The Brotherhood took care of Noah Seaver." Caleb had read and reread the accounts of Noah Seaver's hanging in numerous journals. It brought him only a modicum of comfort, knowing Azazeal had quickly shed his meat suit after he got what he wanted. Framing Noah Seaver for the murders of his fellow townsfolk had been his grand finale.
"But The Triad let his wife go." James picked up Elkins's journal. "He wrote they should have put her out of her misery."
Caleb had thought the same thing many times over. "She was pregnant. They took pity on her." Caleb left out the part about The Knight of that time being in love with Noah's wife along with the fact that The Triad probably let the baby live because there was the slightest chance it might have belonged to one of their own. The decision had cost their Guardian and Knight their lives. "She named the baby Thomas, changed their last name to Reaves and the rest is pretty much history, my history."
It was said with such frankness that Caleb had to laugh. "Tell me about it, Kiddo."
"So your abilities…"
"Are to some degree from my demon side." Caleb nodded. "Mac will tell you that's not a proven fact. My mother, like your grandmother was gifted."
"That's why Daniel Elkins wanted to kill you." James flipped through the old man's journal. "He wrote that Pastor Jim was a fool for believing you could be anything other than what you were born to be. He said all of the men in your family had eventually turned, even your dad, Isaac."
"First and foremost, Daniel Elkins was a crazy bastard." Caleb took the journal from James and closed it with a snap before tossing it on JT's desk. "He tortured me and would have killed me if Bobby and Mac hadn't stopped him. I was your age, James. Fourteen. Scared out of my mind, and the bastard tied me up in a basement, tried to bleed me out while he performed a fucking exorcism."
"I'm sorry." James shrank under Caleb's sudden outburst.
Caleb shook his head, taking a deep breath and letting it out in a huff. "No, I'm sorry. It's just that I don't want you to believe anything that man says. He might have been a good hunter at one time, but over the years his obsession drove him crazy. It turned him into something almost as bad as the things we hunt. He should have been locked up in a psych ward, but Pastor Jim took pity on him. "
James looked hesitant, but then continued with the question Caleb had already picked up on from the boy's racing thoughts. "He wrote you were in a mental hospital?"
Caleb shook his head, running both hands through his hair. The night just kept getting better. He was going to have to tell Dean that whatever lock and key he'd used to hide the more 'sensitive' journals had failed miserably when it came to the cunning of his youngest son.
"That much is true."
"Always with the why." Caleb sighed. "What do you think you would have thought the first time you saw a dog that had been dead for years, or talked to the ghost of a school friend who'd been murdered if you hadn't grown up in this family?"
"I would have thought I was going crazy."
Caleb nodded. "I was on my own when my abilities came online, Kid. My first real vision was of my grandmother's death. I ran all the way home from school, found her collapsed on the kitchen floor, just like I'd seen in the vision. Only I wasn't in time to save her. She was already gone. Hell, I thought I'd killed her with my mind." Caleb touched his head. "I didn't have anyone to explain to me what I was going through, what was happening to me. The only help I got was from a social worker who bagged up what little shit I had, and took me to the first of many not so great foster homes. I spent over a year in the system, in and out of bad situations into worse situations until a decent couple decided to take me on. They ended up dead for their trouble. I ended up charged with their murder when I started babbling about how I had seen it all in my head, that a monster with glowing yellow eyes had gutted them."
"That's where Mac found you."
"Pastor Jim sent him there after Missouri Mosley saw me in a dream. At the time she didn't know if I was an innocent or an abomination; only that The Brotherhood needed to intercept me."
"Pastor Jim believed you were an innocent."
"Pastor Jim was the first person who didn't think I was crazy. He told me I was chosen, and that I had been given a great gift that could be used to help others." Caleb smiled at the memory of the old pastor telling him about the veil, about the incredible world most humans never encountered. "He told me he was The Guardian of an ultra secret society of men and women sworn to protect and serve the innocent. He made hunters sound like The Knights of The Round Table. I thought he was an escaped patient from the same ward as me. That was until Doctor Mackland Ames showed up with all his fancy credentials and vouched for him. I still didn't believe them, but the alternative, the idea that I was crazy, that I had killed those people and that I might have to stay in that place or somewhere worse…I grabbed onto what they were selling me with both hands. I still hold onto it on days like today when I doubt the decision they made to stop Daniel from ending Azazeal's line."
"That's why you don't have a family." James toyed with the silver pendant again. He met Caleb's gaze. "I mean, besides us."
"Family isn't all about biology." Caleb reached out and squeezed James's shoulder. "Family are the ones who love you unconditionally. They're the people who rescue you even when you don't realize you're in need of saving."
"I'm sorry I said those things to you." James voice cracked, his gray eyes filled with fat tears on the verge of spilling over. It was a hundred times worse than seeing one of the girls cry, because Caleb learned quickly that Mary and Josie could turn on the water works at a blink of an eye. James had never been one to cry, even as a toddler. "I'm sorry I said you weren't my uncle. I was so mad…scared."
"I know." For not the first time Caleb was both startled and humbled by the depth of love he could have for another human. It was terrifying. He knew how fragile they were, how easily they could be lost. He'd been savagely reminded of that today when the demon had his hands on James. "I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm sorry I put you in that position today, and then wasn't able to protect you."
"You tried." James quickly swiped the back of his hand over his eyes and pointed to the fresh white bandage peeking out beneath Caleb's black shirt. He grimaced, looking as guilty and repentant as Caleb had ever seen him. "You got a knife wound for your trouble. I could have killed you."
"Nah," Caleb moved his hand to ruffle the kids long dark hair. "Meaner Winchesters than you have tried, Einstein. Your Uncle Sam shot me once, right in the gut. I almost died."
"Really?" James eyebrow shot up with this new bit of information. He smoothed his hair back in place with a welcomed look of annoyance. "When? Why?"
"That's his story to tell." Caleb grinned, knowing he was basically putting the inquisitor on a new scent. Sam deserved it for all his years of following Caleb around asking ridiculous impossible questions. "You'll have to ask him about it."
"I've considered shooting Max." James smiled mouth wide, dimples deep and flashing. "Just a shoulder wound or something. Nothing deadly, really."
The sincere confession brought a much needed levity to the room. Caleb laughed. "That's how it is with family. Can't live with them, shouldn't really shoot them. Besides, you never know when you're going to need Max to watch your back. You boys will have to take care of each other."
"That's why we have The Knight." James smile faltered. He averted his eyes to a point just over Caleb's shoulder. "I love you, Uncle Caleb."
"I love you too, Kiddo." Caleb pulled the boy in for a quick hug, which James endured for a whole ten seconds before pulling away. "And I promise me and your dad and Sam are going to do everything possible to protect you, to keep you safe and teach you how to use your gift."
James heaved a put upon sigh. "It doesn't feel like a gift. It feels like a curse."
"You don't know how many times I said that same thing to Pastor Jim. He always told me that a gift and a curse could look just the same at first glance. The only difference was how a man chose to view it, how he chose to use it." Caleb grinned. "That's usually when he launched into a talk about Jesus being crucified on the cross and suggested I memorize scripture."
"I wish I'd known him." James glanced up at Caleb. "I bet he'd have me memorize entire books of The Bible. I'd win memorization challenges at church every time. Brother Benjamin would be blown away."
"Pastor Jim would have loved showing off his namesake." Caleb had no doubt. He tossed an arm around James. "If he were here right now though, he'd say that what this situation called for was some pie and sweet tea."
"That sounds like Dad."
"Apparently all Guardians like pie." Porthos stirred on the bed at the mention of dessert, bowing and stretching in canine form before jumping to the floor with a huge yawn. Caleb guided them all towards the door. "I have it on good authority that your old man is holding us a few slices of the masterpiece that Esme brought over this past weekend."
"Impossible." James stopped at the door. Porthos continued on out, his paws clicking on the wooden stairs. "I've looked everywhere for that. I figured Dad finished it off before he left."
"Sacred journals and artifacts your dad is lax on- good pie, that's Fort Knox's worthy in his book." Caleb motioned his nephew forward, but James hesitated.
"Dad may not be willing to share with me. I think he's pretty pissed."
"Your dad can't stay mad for long, especially not at you. You were born with several gifts." Caleb winked. "Just give him the patented 'Sammy Look'. It's like his kryptonite."
"I'm still kind of mad at him for not telling us the truth."
"Dude, your dad has some blind spots. I happen to be one of them." Caleb knew Sam was another. It was a brother thing. A Triad thing. James would one day understand. "He's not to blame for my cowardice. He was protecting me. Got it?"
After a moment James nodded. "Uncle Caleb, did we just have our first official chick flick moment?"
"I'm afraid so." Caleb managed a fierce scowl. "Nobody was even on their deathbed. You have your father to thank. It's like I'm all of a sudden best friends with a girl. I blame your mom and you boys."
James shrugged. "It wasn't so bad."
"No?" Caleb quirked a brow, maintaining his disgusted face. "Did you miss the tears and the hugging?"
"Just don't tell JT and Max." James started for the door again. "Especially Max. I have an image to maintain."
"Trust me; this is just between us, Dude. Chick flick moments are never to be spoken about, even under extreme duress and torture."
"Just between us." James stuck out his fist. "Psychic's rule."
Caleb bumped his fist and knew with certainty that they were going to be okay. All was forgiven. James was the hard sell. The other boys would be easy. The teen stepped out into the hallway, turning to face Caleb who was still in the doorway. "I'm really glad you're home."
"Me too, Kiddo." Caleb watched his nephew turn and jog down the stairs, clearing the last three in a jump that had the house shaking, dogs barking and Dean yelling from the kitchen. Caleb shook his head, reaching for the door to his room. He pulled it close, letting his hand linger on the cool knob as he listened to the sounds of muffled boyish laughter floating from the adjoining room. Long ago memories stirred and he smiled. "There's no place like home."
The End…for now