By: Ridley

Rating: T-for those boys' bad language

Disclaimer: Nothing Supernatural belongs to me, and sadly no money exchanged hands for this work.

A/N: First, thanks so much to Tidia for being an awesome Beta, although some of this even she hasn't seen. So, all mistakes are mine. This is a pre-emptive tag on for Born Under a Bad Sign. Again , it's my way to weave in The Brotherhood with cannon, or at least give it a dang good try. I also feel that some people might have misinterpreted my previous tag on to the last episode. I so love reviews, but sometimes they just get me to thinking and ….so here goes.

Summary: Pre-emptive Tag for Born Under a Bad Sign. Unknown forces are setting the stage for the Winchester's downfall, and no one is above being used as a pawn in a deadly game of deception.

Synergy (sinnerjee) n.-

Combined effort being greater than parts: the working together of two or more people, organizations or things, especially when the end result is greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities.

The phone was ringing interrupting Sam Winchester's strange dream about rainbow-colored unicorns and sword wielding angels. He mumbled something resembling his brother's name and hoped Dean would actually get the offending object. Unfortunately, the sounds of the shower and the muffled tones of the older Winchester's singing voice told Sam he was out of luck.

He rolled over with a groan, resigned to his fate, and grabbed his cell. "Yeah?"


Only two people called him 'Samuel' and Pastor Jim was dead. So even though he was still half a sleep and it was an ungodly hour of the morning, the youngest Winchester instantly came alert. "Mac? Hey."

It wasn't unusual to hear from the Scholar these days, especially since the whole incident with the Spriritualists group and the latest botched bank robbing thing, but something in the man's tone set Sam's nerves on edge. "Is everything okay?"

"Sam, I'm sorry to call so early." He heard the man sigh heavily, sounding more tired than Sam felt. "I'm not even sure what time zone you're currently in."

"It's okay, Mac." Sam sat up, shoving the blankets away so he could swing his long legs over the side of the bed. "We're in New Mexico." He and his brother had headed that way after leaving Rhode Island three days before. They had stayed on the road, stopping only when they had to, hence Sam's exhaustion. "Just outside Tuscosa"

"Thank God, you're close."

Sam didn't like the hint of desperation. "Mac, where are you?"


Winchester felt his heart rate pick up. Caleb Reaves had been heading to Texas when Sam had talked to him last. The younger hunter had called the psychic to get his opinion on the whole avenging angel theory. Although Caleb had been more open-minded than Dean, he still had doubts about the Big Guy using crack heads and whores to smite the whackos of the world, Caleb's terms not his. Like Dean, he hadn't heard of any hunter ever running across the holy beings, but he had listened to Sam's theory patiently. That was one thing Sam could always count on from the other hunter.

"Sam? Are you still there?"

Mac's voice snapped him back to the present and he was overcome with a powerful wave of anxiety, whether it was the physician's or his own, Sam wasn't sure. "Yeah. Mac, what's wrong?"

"It's Caleb."

Sam felt his mouth go dry, even as sweat slicked his palms. "Is he okay?" The youngest Winchester subconsciously glanced towards the bathroom where the running water had stopped. Reaves had to be okay. The pause was too long and Sam fisted his hand in one of the blankets. "Mac?"

"Things are not well, Sam." Again the doctor exhaled loudly, and Sam imagined him running his hand through his salt and peppered hair. "Caleb's in ICU."

"What?" Sam stood, walking across the motel room, putting distance between him and Dean, even though he knew it was doubtful his brother could hear through the walls. "How? When?"

"I don't mean to be elusive; but could we possibly talk about the details when you arrive here?" Mac hesitated again. "It's not something I can discuss at the moment. I'm using the office of one of my colleagues."

Sam grabbed a pen and note pad from the desk drawer. "Give me the address, Mac."

The younger hunter scribbled down the name of the hospital and the rough directions Mackland gave him. When he was finished he glanced over his shoulder and then closed his eyes. "Mac, he's going to be okay, right?"

"Of course, Sam."

The words did nothing to comfort Winchester, and he was about to say as much when Ames spoke again. "I don't think it is a good idea for Dean to come. This is a metropolitan area. Police and such are in and out of here on a regular basis."

Sam swallowed thickly. "That won't fly and you know it, Mac. As much as I'd like to say I could have that kind of control over Dean, you know I don't." Convincing his brother to stay sequestered in a hotel room was one thing, keeping him from riding to the rescue of someone he cared about was quite another.

"I know," Mac replied, solemnly and again Sam felt a pang of weariness and overwhelming fear. "Please keep him on a short leash, Samuel. We can not afford anything else to go wrong. I…I have made some poor choices perhaps in keeping you boys informed of the workings of The Brotherhood, but every move you make now is critical."

Sam wasn't sure what to make of the cryptic talk, but he chalked it up to the man being scared out of his mind for Reaves. Dean chose that moment to exit the bathroom in a cloud of steam that told Sam he wouldn't be enjoying a hot shower that morning. "Mac, I'll take care of him. You just take care of Caleb until we can get there."

"Be careful, Sam."

Sam quickly ended the call and glanced up to find his brother grinning cheekily at him. "Morning, Sunshine? Trying to sneak in a chat with your favorite sex line before I made it out of the shower?"

Sam frowned. "No. It was Mackland."

Dean rolled his eyes and groaned as he tugged a t-shirt over his head. "Don't tell me. He's decided to send us to Mexico this time." The older hunter shrugged. "Although, a trip south of the border sounds a lot better than freezing our asses off in hockey country."

"Dean…" Sam started, feeling slightly nauseous. "He wants us to come to Texas."

"Texas?" Dean's brow furrowed. "They have the death penalty there, you know. I thought we agreed to avoid states that had death row mascots like 'Sparky' and were fans of capitol punishment for a while." His brother's face suddenly turned serious. "Wasn't Damien headed that way to work a job for Bobby? He was going to meet up with Fisher."

"Yeah." Sam grabbed his bag, starting to toss his things inside. "He's there, too." Technically, it was true.

Dean looked at his brother. "Sammy?"

The younger Winchester continued to throw clothes in his duffel. "We need to hurry, Dean. I'll explain on the way."

"Explain now." Dean closed the distance between them.

"Will you just let me do things my way for once?" Sam glanced up at him.

"Fine." Dean moved towards the nightstand where his phone was. He picked it up and put his thumb on the number two button. "I'll just call Caleb."

"Don't." Sam dropped his bag, sighing. He raked his hands through his hair. "He won't answer."

"Why?" Dean swallowed thickly, his finger still on the speed dial. "What's going on, Sam?"

"Caleb's hurt. He's in the ICU at a hospital in Texas."

"What?" Dean's face reddened. "What the hell happened? I just talked to him the night before last."

"I don't know. Mac said he couldn't get into it over the phone, only that he needed us to come." Sam didn't feel the need to mention the older man had thought it best Dean stay in hiding. It was a moot point.

"Was it the hunt? Did Fisher fuck up?" Dean threw his phone on the bed. "Don't fucking answer that." He glared at his brother. "This has something to do with us, doesn't it?"

"We don't know that." It had been Sam's first thought, also. "Not for sure."

"But your spidey sense is telling you that, huh?"

"I didn't have a vision, Dean. I have visions when the demon is involved."

"You didn't have a vision about Pastor Jim, Sammy. Or Dad."

It was true. The one thing that haunted Sam about his abilities thus far. If they couldn't be used to protect those he loved the most, then what the hell good did they do him? "Let's go talk to Mac. Maybe it was the gig, or he mentioned The Brotherhood."

"The fucking Brotherhood," Dean growled. "I'm about sick of the secret society shit. Who the fuck said Caleb had to be the Knight, anyway? I never witnessed any accolade. He's as much Lancelot as I am Merlin."

Sam didn't reply and Dean grabbed his own duffel. "The bastard better not fucking run out on us."

"If there's anything he can do to help it, he won't." Of that Sam was sure. "Trust me."

Dean met his gaze and for a second he seemed years younger, almost like a lost child. "Where are your angels now, Sammy? Is it God's will that we keep losing people?"

What could he say? "We need to go, Dean. Mac's waiting for us."

Mackland Ames had paced the floor for the three hours since his son had been wheeled into emergency surgery, fueled with coffee and one stale pastry Bobby Singer had demanded he eat.

Sam had called almost an hour ago to let him know they would soon arrive, and he had told him the news about the internal bleeding, about the urgency to correct the problem before it could cause further complications. Despite the nonchalance he had tried to inflect, the way he had described it as rather rudimentary procedure, neither of the Winchesters had taken it well. He could only imagine the reaction when he would be forced to explain the situation surrounding the events that had brought them here.

"Would you stop it with the pacing already, Mackland? For crying out loud, you've spent more of your life in the hospital than you have out in normal land." Bobby gestured to the surgical waiting room. "You know the playbook better than most of these poor slobs."

"Yes, but I'm usually in the pilot's seat," Mac growled. "This is a bit like flying coach. I hate flying coach."

Bobby snorted. "Like you've ever flown coach in your life."

"It was a simile."

"The boys should be here soon. What the hell you gonna' tell them? They won't buy your metaphors and shit either."

Mac took the seat next to the other hunter. "Then I'll try the truth for a change."

"That we don't know a damn thing? That's what you're going to tell them?"

"I'm hoping Sam might be able to help us with that."

As if his words had some how conjured them, Dean Winchester suddenly blew through the silver bay doors across the room from them. Several of the visitors looked up from their magazines and the head nurse on duty shot the boy a frown. Sam was trailing behind him, looking rather frazzled and more than a little annoyed.

Dean must not have seen Ames or Singer in the corner because he made a straight line for the information desk. "Is Caleb Reaves here?"

"Are you a relative, sir?"

"Yes." Dean said without hesitation. "Is he out of surgery?"

"I'm sorry, sir, what was your name?"

"What the hell does it matter what my name is?" He growled and Sam was there instantly, along with Mac and Bobby.

"Dean." Mackland exhaled softly. Was that the boy's idea of keeping a low profile. "Take it easy."

"Doctor Ames?"

"It's alright," Mac spoke to the nurse. "This is my nephew, Mathew Conner." It was the name from one of the I.D.'s Joshua had established for the boys. Not as creative as most of Dean's aliases, but using his middle name and their mother's maiden name seemed more appropriate to Mackland than some has been rocker or movie character. "He and his brother, Johnathan, shall have full access to my son."

"Yes, sir."

Mackland took Dean by the arm and led him and Sam towards the back of the room. "I thought you two were going to be discreet?"

"I was being discreet, Mac," Dean told him with a curious glance in Bobby's direction. "How's Caleb?"

"He's still in surgery."

"Is that normal?" Sam asked.

Mac motioned to the vacant chairs he and Bobby had secured away from the other people waiting for news on loved ones. "Sit, boys."

"I don't want to sit," Dean snapped. "I want to know what the hell happened."

"He didn't ask you what you wanted to do, Dean. Now sit your ass down," Singer growled and Winchester gave him a heated glare.

"Where the hell were you when this happened?" The older Winchester asked as he claimed the chair closest to the swinging silver bay doors. "Reaves said you were still in Oklahoma."

Mackland gave Bobby a look and held up his hands to cut the response he could see building in the man's eyes. The doctor looked at Dean. "I promise you I'll explain what I know, Dean."

"First tell us how he is," Sam interjected from his spot near his brother. "Why's he been in surgery so long?"

Mackland took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "His blood pressure dropped. The bleeding that we hoped would stop on its own didn't."

"Bleeding from where?"

"His spleen for one. They've gone in to remove it and to repair the rest of the damage."

Dean ran a hand through his short hair. "Damn, Mac. What the hell happened?"

"What else?" Sam demanded, needing to know the specifics.

Mackland held his gaze, forcing himself to be as clinical as possible. "Contusions, lacerations, both minor and severe. Fractured ribs, and hand, as well as a small frontal bone fissure. Shock was our biggest enemy. Before I found him he was in the weather for quite some time."

The doctor cleared his throat, remembering all too well the site of his son's body in the roadside ditch. "We were concerned about liver damage from the force of the blunt trauma, but the CT scans showed negative for that. PA and lateral chest x-rays showed no signs of tension pneumothorax, but there was a lung contusion." Mac palmed his weary eyes. "So, we opted for a ventilator to let the lungs rest."

"He's not breathing on his own?" Dean's face was pale and Sam had the sudden urge just to tell Mac to stop talking, but the doctor seemed caught up in his own words.

"No, he isn't. Unfortunately, that isn't the major issue at the moment."

"Oh good, there's more." Dean groaned, letting his head rest in his hands.

"Despite the lack of evidence for significant intracranial injury, Caleb has not regained consciousness."

"He's in a coma?" Sam asked, unable to look at his brother this time to gauge his reaction. Seeing the barely veiled hurt in Mac's gray gaze was bad enough.

"A light one. But the sooner he wakes the better."

Dean held the doctor's gaze. "What did this to him?"

"Not what, but who." It was Bobby who spoke and Sam couldn't remember a time when the man had ever sounded quite so cold.

"Come again," Dean replied, his own voice taking an icy edge.

Mac folded his hands together, trying to maintain a calm that had escaped him since the fateful phone call which alerted him to Caleb's distress. "Ellen called me yesterday evening around ten."

"Ellen?" Dean interrupted and Sam frowned at him. "What the hell has she got to do with this?"

"She overheard some hunters talking about a job they had done." Mac shared a look with Bobby and then moved his gaze back to the brothers. "It wasn't exactly of the supernatural variety."

"Hunters did this to him?" Dean felt his heart rate pick up as he recalled what Gordon had been willing to do to Sam. "Some freaks from the Roadhouse?"

"Ellen said there were a couple of men she didn't recognize bragging about taking out the future Knight of the Brotherhood." Bobby was the one to answer, his face betraying the calmness in his voice. "They had a silver ring."

Dean's face paled further. "Caleb's ring?"

Mackland met the older Winchester's disbelieving gaze. "He wasn't wearing his when we found him."

"I'll kill them," Dean growled. "I'll fucking kill them." The idea of the bastards taking something they would never come close to understanding or deserving provoked a fury in Winchester.

"I'll help you," Bobby interjected, and received a disapproving look from Ames.

"Since when do you two talk to Ellen?" Sam asked, confusion registering on his young features. "Or anyone at the Roadhouse for that matter?" None of it was making any sense.

Mac sighed heavily. "Her husband was one of us, Samuel. We may not always see eye to eye on things, but it is to her advantage to not tread against The Brotherhood. Honestly, I'm not sure where her loyalties lie anymore, but I'm sure you've realized by now that she's a smart woman."

"Why would hunters want to take Caleb out?" Dean demanded. "What's all this have to do with The Brotherhood?"

"I'm not sure it has anything to do with The Brotherhood," Mac answered truthfully. "But Ellen's information was enough to raise my concern. I tried to call Caleb and when I didn't get an answer, I came to Bobby's and we began our search from there."

"You should have called us," Dean said, heatedly. "I talked to him the day before yesterday. I could have helped."

"I didn't know if I would have to involve the police, Dean. I couldn't risk you and Sam if that turned out to be the case."

Sam shook his head. "We wouldn't have cared."

"I care!" Mac snapped, uncharacteristically. "Caleb cares." His son would never forgive him if he endangered the Winchesters.

"And look where that got him!" Dean stood, pointing a finger at Mackland. "I told you this would happen. This has something to do with us. I know it does."

"We don't know what this is, Dean," Mac argued. "There's only one person with the answers and he's unconscious."

"Maybe I can help with that?" Sam suggested, his mind latching onto what was running through the other psychic's thoughts.

Ames met his gaze. "Perhaps."

"More freaky mind tricks? You really think that's going to help?" Dean shook his head. "We never should have let you get involved in the first place."

"Get involved?" Bobby groaned. "Boy, we've been involved in this for a whole hell of a lot longer than you and Stretch have. This is just as much our fight as it is yours. Stop trying to carry the fucking world on your shoulders, John Junior."

Dean didn't get a chance for a comeback to the stinging comparison to his father because Mac's gaze suddenly swung to the silver bay doors where a red-haired man in scrubs had just entered.

"Joseph?" Mac inquired, his body tensing as the surgeon strode forward to meet them.

"He's fine, Mackland." The physician glanced at the other men not sure if he should continue on.

"Did you get all the bleeders this time? Has there been any change in his neurological status?"

The physician must have taken Mac's medical inquiries as permission to continue, HEPA be damned, and didn't question Dean and Sam's close proximity when they stood to join them. "The bleeding is taken care of and the removal was clean."

"But?" Mac pushed, having been a doctor far too long not to see the other shoe about to drop.

"Neurological status is the same. He hasn't shown any signs of waking." The man looked sincerely apologetic. "I'm sorry, Mackland. You know as well as I do that doesn't mean much. His body has been through an enormous trauma. It's quite logical that it would shut down to recuperate."

Mac raked a hand through his hair. "Don't coddle me, Joseph."

"Can we see him?" Dean spoke up, and Caleb's surgeon looked at him.

"My nephew," Mac explained and Joseph frowned. Apparently he was searching his mind for any siblings the infamous Doctor Ames might have had.

"He should be moved back to ICU within the hour, Son." He finally answered and then his gaze went back to Mac. "I have the latest CT scans if you would like to take a look for yourself."

"Of course." Mac nodded and the man moved back towards the swinging bay doors. Ames cast a look at Singer. "Buy the boys lunch, Bobby, and something more substantial than that horrid Danish you brought me."

Singer cocked a brow, holding out his hand like an indulged teenager. Mac sighed and handed over his whole wallet. "On me, of course."

"I'm not hungry," Dean said petulantly and received a cuff on the back of his head for the trouble.

"Did you hear him ask you if you were hungry, Dean?" Singer growled, before flicking his eyes back to Mackland. "We'll meet you back in the ICU in forty."

It was closer to twenty minutes, with Dean having rushed them through the buffet line in the cafeteria and then barely picking at his burger and fries. He had spent most of his time peppering the older hunter with questions about what else Bobby knew about the situation. To his frustration and Singer's, the mechanic didn't have much more information.

He told the boys that he and Mac had found John's truck at the motel Caleb had been staying. They had learned the location from Fisher, who helped with the search from there. Ames had used his son's bloodied jacket, which they had found near the parked vehicle, to find his whereabouts. That had been almost twelve hours before.

"Mac thinks there's something big brewing, doesn't he?" Dean continued to interrogate Singer in the elevator to the fourth floor.

"Mac's always thinking something, Kid. That's why he's the Scholar."

Dean sighed. "Where's the fucking Guardian, Bobby? Mac's been handling all this shit since Jim. Isn't there some Guardian in waiting that can help him? Can watch Caleb's back?"

Bobby looked towards the lit buttons, forcing his mind to go blank just like Mac had instructed him. He had caught the way Sam was watching him with a perplexed look. Ames was right. The kid wasn't above looking for the same information his brother was searching for. "This is us," Singer announced unnecessarily when the elevator dinged. "Shake a leg, Stretch." He shoved the taller boy out into the hallway and followed behind him, leaving Dean to stew in his own juices for a moment longer before the older Winchester also joined them.

"I hate all this shit," Dean growled as he stalked ahead of them. "And when Damien wakes up, we're going to have a little talk about putting Excalibur back in the stone where he found it."

The sudden thought of 'if he wakes up' resounded clearly and painfully in Dean's mind as he found himself face to face with his best friend being wheeled into the ICU room that awaited him. "Oh God." Sam's voice cracked, echoing his own thoughts. He fought off the feeling of vertigo that weakened his knees as he catalogued the countless bruises and cuts littering Caleb's face and arms. Not to mention the swath of bandages covering his head and the cast on his arm.

"Son of a bitch." Dean bit out, and felt Bobby come up behind him, giving him a little nudge to follow the techs into the room as they wired their fellow hunter up to countless monitoring devices. And then there was the ventilator. "Damn it."

"The kid's looked better." Bobby swallowed thickly but he pushed a smile onto his face. "But it wasn't too long ago you boys looked about the same. And you're both back in the land of the living, even without the little extra demon juice he's got giving him a hand."

Sam and Dean gave him a look that had the mechanic shutting his mouth with a shrug of his shoulders as they continued to watch nurses buzz around Caleb's bedside. One older blond glanced up at the two younger men and smiled. "He's doing fine. Things always look worse under these unflattering fluorescent lights."

"Yeah." Dean nodded. "Caleb needs help on a good day."

The woman's smile widened. "Let me guess-brothers?"

Dean stepped closer to the bed. "Something like that."

"You can touch him, sweetie." The woman recognized the fearful look racing through the boy's green eyes. "He's still here under all this equipment."

Sam stood beside his brother, reaching out and resting his hand on the injured hunter's cold arm. The familiar surge of connection greeted him and he smiled. "She's right. Caleb's still here."

Dean frowned, stepping back with a shake of his head.The unpleasant smell of disinfectant and sickness that permeated the room assaulted his senses and brought unpleasant memories surging to the surface. He had the overwhelming desire to escape as images of the last time he was in such a place bombarded him, mixing with feelings about his own brush with death, as well as his father's demise. "I'll feel better when he can tell me that himself."

Mackland entered the room along with the surgeon from before and Sam stepped back to allow them access to Caleb in the small area. "We won't try and remove him from the ventilator until at least the day after tomorrow, Mackland," Joseph commented.

"I agree." Mac crossed his arms over his chest as the other physcician checked one of the nurses lap top for treatment instructions and then signed off on it. "Perhaps he will have regained consciousness by then."

The surgeon smiled. "I hope so." He patted Ames on the arm, nodded to the others and then left them alone.

"Let me know if I can get you or your family anything, Dr. Ames." The blonde nurse shot Dean another reassuring smile before leaving the room with the other nurse in tow.

"This is bad, Mac." Dean moved towards the bed again, but his eyes were locked on the physician.

"A lot of it is superficial damage," Ames replied. "I promise you that the most serious thing we're looking at is the head wound."

"Have you tried contacting him?" Sam asked, returning to Caleb's side again, his hand hovering above the other man's.

"Don't!" Dean ordered him. "You don't know what that might do…to either of you."

Mac looked between the brothers. "My talents don't exactly lie in this area, Sam. I'm trained in telekinesis and psychometry."

The youngest Winchester ignored the look his brother gave him and rested his hand on Caleb's arm again. "You did it when I was hurt by that Raw Head."

The doctor smiled. "You were a child, not a trained psychic. And I was desperate."

"I could do it."

"Sam…" Dean growled.

"It wouldn't hurt, right?" Sam raised his eyes to Mac. "I mean, I could look for the information on what happened. We might find out who did this, what they were after. I've done it before. And Caleb's worked with me. I've read his mind a lot." Both with and without his permission.

"Do you remember what happened with that crazy cult bitch, Sammy?" Dean was trying hard to be the voice of reason. "You said you hurt her. You could make things worse."

"I wouldn't hurt Caleb, Dean! I'm not an idiot."

"Boys!" Mac interrupted before the argument could escalate. "This isn't the time to be bickering with one another."

"Sorry, Mac." They answered in unison.

Bobby snorted at the twin, contrite looks. "I think you both should let Mackland decide what will work and what won't. No one in this outfit can afford to lose any more brain cells."

"I'd rather you not help me, Bobby."

"Fine." Singer held up his hands and took one of the two chairs in the room. "I'll just sit over here on the sidelines."

"You really think Sam should do this, Mac?"

"I think it's worth a try, Dean."

"Why do I get the feeling that's the Scholar talking and not Caleb's dad." There had been countless times Reaves had stood up to John on Dean's behalf, and despite the fact he never thought he would need to do the same with Mackland, the older Winchester was determined to repay the favor.

"Dean!" Sam shot his brother an incredulous look.

Dean looked away, a little ashamed at the insult he had just thrown. "What? It just seems to me that Mac is acting a lot more like our Dad than his usual self."

Ames frowned at the boy. "I would never risk Caleb's life, or put his or Sam's health in jeopardy."

"Fine." Dean threw up his hands, recognizing when he was outnumbered. "Do what you think is best for everyone." He made a move for the door. "I'll do the same."

"Where are you going?" Sam asked and got a heated look for his trouble.

"Don't worry, little brother. Go ahead and play psychic boy; I promise not to draw any unwanted attention to myself."

Bobby stood as Dean strode past him on his way out the door. "You're getting really good at this Mackland. John would be proud."

"Shut up, Bobby," Mac growled.

Dean moved through the lobby, scrolling through his phone as he did. Fisher Hall wasn't his favorite hunter. In fact, he pretty much tied with Joshua Sawyer's father for being his least favorite member of The Brotherhood. But, working with him had been a necessary evil at times.

Just like now.

Finding the number he was looking for he pushed the call button and waited until the older hunter answered.


Dean rolled his eyes at the faint southern drawl. The man was from some backwoods hick town and had always seemed to Dean like he was trying too hard at the whole good old boy routine. "It's Winchester."

"Dean?" There was a slight pause. "How the hell are you?"

"Better than Reaves."

"Yeah. I'm sorry about that." Another longer hesitation and then Fisher was clearing his throat. "I was with Mackland and Bobby when they found him."

"That was convenient." Dean ducked around the corner of the building as some uniformed officers approached the ER doors.

"I was still in the area."

"So you looked into it?" Winchester already knew the answer to that question, but he enjoyed making the other hunter squirm.

"Yeah. I checked out some leads."

Fisher was a terrible liar. "Then you have names for me?"

"Huh?" Dean's assumption seemed to get the man's complete attention. "I don't have any names, Winchester. Nothing turned up."

"Then I suggest you get on it."

"I don't know anything about what happened to Caleb, Dean." Fisher's voice took on a defensive edge. "I left him hours before he was attacked."

"Right." Dean hedged, as he paced along the sidewalk. "Because you would never be a part of something like that. An ambush, I mean. Stacking the odds in your favor by outnumbering someone four to one is pretty shitty." Dean laughed. "But wait, what am I thinking? You've done all that before."

"That was a long time ago, Winchester," Fisher snapped. "You don't know anything about me."

Dean clenched his fist, willing the emotion out of his voice as he thought about Caleb. "I know you better come up with some names of the hunters who did this, or I will take your country bumpkin ass home to Hazard and plant you in Uncle Jessie's garden."

"You're threatening me, you little punk?"

"Would I do that? You're a fellow upstanding member of The Brotherhood." Dean started back towards the entrance of the hospital. "Consider it me giving you a golden opportunity to keep on breathing."

There was a silence on the line and Dean wondered for a moment if the son of a bitch had hung up on him, but then he heard the older man sigh into the phone. "If I do get you the names it doesn't mean I had a fucking thing to do with what went down, Winchester. I wouldn't go against The Brotherhood. But hunters love to talk. So I could get lucky; I might have something for you in a day or two"

A grim line settled onto Dean's mouth. "Pray you get lucky because if I don't have what I want in a day or two, it's you I'm going to be talking to."


Sam was sitting in a chair next to Caleb's bed when Dean came back in. His eyes were closed and his brow was furrowed in deep concentration. Mac was standing by his side talking softly to him.

Bobby was standing near the door, obviously playing lookout and the older Winchester by-passed him to quietly claim the seat on the other side of Reaves.

Mac glanced up at his entrance, but continued instructing Sam, guiding him through the process that would hopefully provide them with the answers they needed. Dean still didn't like it, but it obviously wasn't his call. He'd done his own bit of reaching out and touching someone, and he didn't even need to be a psychic to know Fisher Hall knew something.

"Just relax, Sam. Concentrate on Caleb and then focus on the information you want to find."

Sam listened to the doctor's voice and tried to relax. He remembered the mental exercises he and Caleb had worked on together after the whole incident with the girl from the cult. The younger psychic had gotten better at slipping into another's subconscious and felt his confidence build when he encountered no resistance from Reaves.

Caleb had liked Sam's idea of using the library imagery. After all, the youngest Winchester had spent a great deal of his life in the repositories of knowledge. And the brain itself was a type of vault for information storage. It made sense and it set Sam at ease, giving him an illusion of control and that was the key.

Sam loved books. And when he opened his eyes and found himself before a wall of bookshelves he felt a rush of excitement.

These specific books weren't familiar but the room was. Sam stared at the hand-made honey oak shelves and a brief smile touched his lips. He was at the farm. "Jim's place," he said out loud running his hands over the volumes of books.

For him it was easy to imagine chapters of people's lives in an assortment of novels. Their stories entwined in the pages of a book like famous characters of their own epic tales. When Sam had entered Anne's mind to find the antidote to the poison she had used on Reaves, the books had been clearly labeled as if for his benefit. But these were Caleb's memories and much more complex.

The titles seemed unrecognizable, and for a moment Winchester wondered if they might be in some sort of code. After all, Reaves was a powerful psychic. It would make sense he would have blocks in place.

He took a breath and narrowed his focus. Sam thought of Caleb again and the information he wanted to know. The volumes seemed to shift, slide to one side, revealing three prominent books. All three made perfect sense and the young psychic smiled. The Art of War, The Three Musketeers and To Kill a Mockingbird. His fingers closed around the novels and he pulled them off the shelf, hugging them to his chest.

"I got to say, Sammy, the library technique suits you."

Sam whirled around at the unexpected voice, his mouth dropping open slightly when his eyes landed on the speaker. "Caleb? Is that really you?"

The dark-haired man stepped out of the shadows, into the glow coming from the crackling flames in the stone fireplace. "Hey, Runt. You're getting better at this stuff."

"How…" Sam moved away from the shelves, not able to take his eyes off the man in front of him. It was Caleb, but not. "How is this possible?"

This version of his friend wasn't battered and bruised. He wasn't hooked to countless machines, looking more dead than alive. And he was younger.

This Caleb was probably closer to Sam's age than Dean's. He was dressed in faded jeans and a very familiar Red Sox shirt, barefoot, and his dark hair was longer than it was in present day. The crooked smile was the same though. Sam shook his head in disbelief. It was so damn good to see him. "Are you okay?"

Reaves motioned to the books and then back to Winchester. "Judging by the fact you're pilfering through my private memories and we're here at Jim's farm, I would have to go out on a limb and say no." He glanced down at himself, motioning to his appearance before looking at Sam again. "And then there's the whole Back to The Future thing. I hope I'm not wearing Calvin Klein underwear."

Sam took another step closer, leaning against the back of the couch in the center of the room. "I don't understand how you're here…why you're here."

Caleb laughed, plopping down in the chair closest to the fire. "Considering this is my mind, I'd say that should be my line."

"Okay." Sam shook his head again at the complete weirdness of it all. "I'm here trying to figure out what happened to you."

Caleb leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees. "So? What happened to me?"

Winchester shrugged, coming around to sit on the couch. "I'm not sure. I just got here." He held up the books he'd picked out. I was hoping these could tell me."

Reaves reached out and took the tomes, his own grin fading as he stroked the cracked spines. "I don't think these are what you're looking for."

"Why not?"

Reaves looked at him. "These are…These are more about who I am than any specific moment in time." When Sam's face twisted in confusion and doubt, Caleb rushed to explain. "Your abilities didn't lead you in the wrong direction, Kid. They just gave you a place to start."

Sam shook his head. "I don't understand. I was doing like Mac said concentrating on you."

"And you got me." Caleb grinned. "That's some powerful abilities you have there, young Jedi."

"You mean…"

"Somehow you used the books as a conduit and aced a virtual tour by yours truly. I'm seriously jealous. You're getting stronger everyday, catching up to me pretty damn fast."

The younger psychic frowned. "But why are you younger?"

"Good question." Caleb looked around them. "I can understand us being at Jim's. I've always felt safe here. It's the one real home we had, you know?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah." He felt the same way about the farm.

Reaves sighed, and crossed his arms over his chest. "I guess the whole regression thing is your way of telling me that maybe I should remember what it's like to be your age." Caleb grinned again. "Or you just want to feel superior? That would be just like you."

Sam laughed. "Yeah, that must be it." He raked a hand through his hair. "This is very cool."

"For you, maybe. I was in the middle of this really great dream about Halle Berry."

The younger psychic shook his head. "Leave it to you to turn a coma into a personal make out session."

"I'm in a coma?" Caleb's voice cracked slightly. "Shit."

Sam looked mortified. "Oh man…I didn't mean…"

A devilish grin appeared on the other man's face. "You're too easy, Sam."

"That's not funny."

"Sorry." Reaves leaned forward again. "Seriously, I'm in pretty bad shape, huh?"

The youngest Winchester nodded. "Yeah. I'm afraid so." Caleb's face seemed to lose some of its color and Sam was pretty sure this time it wasn't an act. "Do you remember anything?"

"Not really. But I figured I must be out of it for you to be here." Caleb stood, going to the fireplace. He leaned his head against the mantle, and exhaled heavily. "Did this happen on that hunt with Hall?"

Sam nodded. "After the hunt, we think."

Reaves bit his lip, thinking. "I remember driving back to the motel after leaving Fisher. We'd found the burial location of the spirit. Did a quick salt and burn." Caleb turned back to Sam. "We don't exactly socialize much, so he headed out and I was ready to crash."

"Did he have anything to do with it?"

The older hunter shook his head, understanding why Sam might think that. There was a time when Fisher had been an enemy, at least to Caleb. "We were kids back then, Sam. The guy wears a ring. He's one of us and he's not that stupid."

"We think hunters did this, Caleb."

The other psychic frowned. "How do you know that? I thought you didn't know what happened to me?"

"Ellen called Mac."

Caleb raised an eyebrow. "Ellen?"

"Some of the men who hurt you ended up back at the Roadhouse. They were talking about it."

Reaves suddenly remembered getting out John's truck, being surrounded by dark figures in the deserted motel parking lot. "I figured them for wannabes. So they were bragging about kicking my ass?" Caleb shook his head. "I'm so going to burn that damn roadhouse down one day."

Sam smiled slightly. "I think Dean's almost to the point of bringing the gasoline."

"After Gordon I wouldn't blame him."

"Ellen can't control what the other hunters do."

"Don't argue with me, Sammy. I'm in a coma for Christ's sake."

"Sorry," Sam rose from the couch, going to stand near his friend. "If it makes you feel any better. Mac think's you're going to be fine."

"Thanks, but Mac tends to be optimistic where I'm concerned. Always has been." Reaves paced in front of the fireplace. "I figured the bastards would work me over pretty good." He frowned. "There was four of them, and I knew I was in trouble when one of the pussies pulled out a bat."

"Do you know why they did it? What they were after?"

Reaves shook his head. "No. They didn't really give me a chance to play twenty questions."

"It doesn't make any sense."

"The only thing I can think of is that they wanted me out of commission."

Sam frowned. "But why? Because of The Brotherhood?"

Reaves shook his head. "I doubt it. I'm not even the Knight yet…won't be until the new Triad is in place…" He stopped and looked up at Winchester. "That might be a part of it."


Caleb licked his lips. "What have I been doing lately, Sam?"

"Besides Halle Berry?"

Reaves frowned at him and the younger psychic sighed. "I don't know…hunting, chewing Dean's ass out, watching our…" Sam stopped mid-sentence, his mind linking all the pieces together. His brother had been right. "You've been watching out for me and Dean."

"I've been trying anyway. Although, I've kind of sucked at it lately."

"You think they were trying to get you out of the way? But why?"

Reaves raked a hand through his hair. "That's what I'd like to know."

Sam winced, rubbing at his head. "Dean said this was because of us."

"Hey?" Caleb moved to his side, hesitating for a moment, but then reaching out and laying a hand on the younger man's arm. "You okay?"

Winchester blinked, nodding. "Yeah. My head's hurting."

Reaves's frown grew. "You need to pull out of here, Kid. This whole scene has to take a whole hell of a lot of psychic energy."

"But we don't know what's going on yet?"

Caleb let him go. "We understand enough. You and Dean need to watch your backs. Something big is going down, and I have a bad feeling you two are going to get caught in the middle of it."

"Do you think this is part of what Dad was talking about? Does this have something to do with me turning evil?"

Reaves shook his head. "Sam, not that again."

"You don't understand!" The younger psychic snapped and then rubbed at his forehead, where a constant ache had taken up residence.

"I do understand," Caleb told him. "The rage. The hate. The fear. You name it, I've worried about."

"Then how can you just tell me to blow it off? Let it go?"

"Because I don't know how to fix it, Sam. I don't have any magical cure to make it go away. And neither did Johnny. That's why he didn't want you to know."

"Just like he didn't want me to know about my abilities?" Sam shook his head. "If he would have told me when I was younger I could have learned to use them better by now."

Reaves smiled. "Seems you're doing pretty damn well with them."

"I have a good teacher." Sam sighed. "But you know what I mean."

"I do. And I'm sorry."

"For what?"

Caleb sighed. "I know our last conversation wasn't all warm and fuzzy. This whole thing with John has made me a little crazy." He raked a hand through his hair. "Seeing your hard-headed brother hurt makes me crazy. I can't protect him from any of this and that sucks." Reaves pointed a finger at him. "But if you tell him I said that I will kill you."

Sam nodded. "Your secret is safe with me." He gave the other psychic a faint smile. "Besides it's made us all a little crazy and you're not the only one who thinks it sucks."

Reaves looked at him. "Is Deuce okay? I mean this can't be bringing back the best of memories."

"Not really." Sam stared at the flames of the fire, remembering the way his brother had been right after their father had died. He didn't want to think about dealing with that side of Dean again. "He's pretty stressed."

"And scared." Caleb added thoughtfully and Sam shot him a look. "Losing people scares him. A lot. It's his biggest fear." One more thing they had in common.

The youngest Winchester nodded. "I think we're all scared."

Reaves nodded, watching as Sam winced again, his hand going up to pinch at the bridge of his nose. "Okay, that's it. You need to go now."

"But you…"

"I'm not going anywhere any time soon, Sam."

Sam's face twisted in a different kind of pain. "Are you dying?"

Caleb held his gaze, searching his own feelings. "I'm not sure."

"You can't give up, man. We need you. Dean needs you. The whole big brother dynamic, remember?"

Reaves sighed. "He needs you, Sam. That's why you have to be careful. I don't know what all this is about, but something tells me that someone wanted me out of the way for a reason, and it's not because I'm the future Knight. You and Dean need to watch out for each other."

"We're going to watch out for you, too."

Caleb shook his head. "Nothing's going to happen to me." He gestured around the room. "I'm safe in Jim's magic castle. Hell, maybe Halle will show up and play Barbie. It's you two I'm worried about."

"But…" Sam swallowed thickly, reaching out and clasping the other man's arm. "I can't just leave you."

Reaves returned the grip. "This isn't really me, Runt. You know that. Our minds can play tricks on us, make us believe things that aren't really true." He frowned, tightening his fingers on Sam's forearm. "Remember that Sam."

"What should I tell Dean? And Mac?"

Caleb let him go and grinned. "Tell Dad to stop pacing. And tell your brother to stop holding my hand like a girl." His smile faded some. "Tell them I'm okay. No matter what happens. I'm okay."

Sam nodded. "Come back to us, man."

"You too, Sammy. You too."

The younger man frowned, but before he could ask what Caleb meant, a white hot light flashed in his eyes, seeming to burn bright all the way to the center of his mind. "Agghhh!"

"Damn it, Sam!" Dean was standing on one side of his brother, as Mac stood on the other, brandishing a penlight.

"Caleb!" The younger Winchester jerked upright, glancing to the bed he had been resting his head against. Reaves was still there, looking nothing like he had at Jim's.

"Hey!" Dean tightened his hold on his younger brother. "You with us?"

Sam nodded, pushing Mac's penlight away with a shake of his head. "Give me a minute." It was disorienting to say the least. Like being pulled from another dimension through some odd sucking portal. Sam suddenly knew how the guy from Quantum leap felt. "I'm okay," he told them, when he still sensed his brother's concerned gaze.

"Seriously, Dude. You could have given us some kind of warning before you went all sleepy time."

"Sam?" Mac's tone had him looking up at the doctor. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I just got caught up." Sam rubbed a hand over his face. "How long was I out of it?"

"Just a couple of minutes," Bobby was the one to answer, and the younger Winchester looked up at him in disbelief.

"What?" Sam frowned. "It had to be longer."

"Time is often relative," Mac informed him.

The younger psychic shook his head. "We were at Jim's."

Dean glanced from his brother to Mackland and back again. "Dude, you didn't leave the room."

Sam sighed, his gaze going back to Caleb and then to the ventilator. This was stranger than when he'd talked to his brother with the Quija board. "He was okay there."

Dean squeezed his shoulder, reclaiming his attention. "You talked to him?"

The younger Winchester looked from his brother to Mac. "Kind of."

Mackland didn't look surprised, only curious. "Did he remember what happened?"

Sam nodded. "Hunters. Just like Ellen said. Four of them jumped him."

Ames frowned. "Did he know why?"

Sam shook his head. "He thinks they wanted him out of the way."

"Out of the way of what?" His brother asked.

The younger Winchester swallowed thickly. "Us."

"Damn it!" Dean growled. "I knew this was our fault."

Mackland shook his head. "The only one at fault is the person who ordered this done."

"You think one person is behind this?" Sam asked.

"I'm not sure," Ames replied, distractedly.

"But we're sure as hell going to find out." Bobby moved towards the door. "I'm going to The Roadhouse and see what the hell I can turn up."

Ames sighed. "Do you really think that's a good idea, Bobby?"

"You got a better one?"

"I do." Dean stood also. "I'll come with you."

"No." Mac answered. "That's not going to happen."

"Why the hell not, Mac?"

"Because at the moment I don't know who to trust, and I'm not putting you at risk."

"Caleb said we needed to watch our backs." Sam spoke up, his eyes imploring with his older brother. He understood Dean's need to do something-to exact revenge, but Reaves wouldn't want them to do anything stupid. "I promised him we would be careful. He was worried about you."

"I can take care of myself."

"Like your father did?" Mackland demanded, his voice rough with emotion. "Like Caleb did?" The doctor gestured to his son. "Do you have some secret weapon that they didn't, Dean?"

The older Winchester exhaled heavily. "What the hell do you want me to do, Mac?"

"I want you to listen to me. I want you to lay low until we can work through this mess before something happens that we cannot fix." The doctor hesitated, but then pushed on. "That includes leaving here."

"Leaving the hospital?" Dean shook his head. "You don't want me to go with Bobby, but you want me to leave here? No way! I'm not going anywhere until he's awake."

"That wasn't a request."

The older Winchester's eyes narrowed, and he clenched his jaw. "I'm not too happy about the whole ordering us around, Mac."

"That's okay, because I'm not too happy with the whole attitude, Dean."

Mackland sighed when the boy looked as if he'd just been slapped. That wasn't a hard reaction to figure out. All the boy's life Ames had encouraged him to take his own part, to stand up for what he thought was best, and now the doctor was doing a complete 360.

At that moment, The Scholar would have given anything to melt back into the background, to let The Guardian and The Knight call the shots. He wanted to be the boys favorite uncle again, not the person demanding even more things of them. But that wasn't meant to be. His brothers had up and died on him, leaving him to carry on alone, and he would not fail. Not after the sacrifices they all had made through their years together. "I'm not trying to be the bad guy here, Dean. I understand how you feel, Son, but…"

"If you understood anything about how I'm feeling you wouldn't ask me not to get involved and you wouldn't expect me to leave him."

Ames shook his head, his gray eyes imploring this time. "If you and Sam stay in one place too long, you make yourself an easier target, not only for the police but for whomever may be trying to flush you out. You could easily be walking into their plans."

Dean threw up his hands. "So you just want us to keep running?"

"I wanted you to go into hiding if you remember?"

"Dean, Mac's right." Sam spoke, trying to be the voice of reason. His brother glared at him but the younger Winchester continued on despite the unspoken threat. "If someone did this to Caleb to get to us, then it wouldn't take much to figure out where we are."

The older Winchester growled in frustration, his gaze going back to Reaves, who looked more helpless and vulnerable than the younger hunter had ever recalled seeing him. For the first time he envied his little brother's gift, the ability to talk to Caleb when he couldn't. Reaves would have listened to him, understood his frustration at feeling helpless.

Every instinct insisted he stay, that he do what he always did-protect. But if staying brought more danger… "Fine, damn it. But I'm not going far." Dean met Mac's gaze. "And you'll call if anything changes."

"I promise."

"As interesting as this whole Jerry Springer moment has been, I'm hitting the road now." Bobby grabbed his jacket from the chair. "I'll call you when I get there, Mackland."

The doctor nodded and watched Singer go. "I need to make a few phone calls." He looked from Sam to Dean. "Will you boys stay with him while I'm gone?"

"You know we will, Mac," Sam replied and the doctor squeezed his shoulder as he passed.

"Thank you, Samuel." He hesitated at the door and glanced back to Dean. "Remember what I said, Dean."

"Yeah. I got it."

Mac continued to hold his gaze. "I assure you whomever did this will answer for it."

"Yeah, well I want them to suffer."

Ames nodded, continuing on out the door and Sam looked to his brother. "I've never seen Mac so stressed, man."

Dean raked a hand through his hair, bringing his palm down over his face. "His son's in a coma, Sammy. Most fathers take those things pretty hard."

"I don't think it's just that. I think it's everything. Dad, Jim, and now this stuff with the other hunters. He's not Mac."

The older man raked a hand through his hair. "Yeah, it sucks to be the Scholar."

Sam agreed. "It would suck to be anyone in the Triad."

Dean made his way to Caleb's side, snagging the chair with his leg and pulling it close so he could sit down. "That's why Damien is taking an early retirement when this is over."

"You think he's going to listen? To you?"

"Hell yeah." Dean avoided the I.V., gripping the other hunter's hand. His eyes unconsciously sought out the ring that should have been there and he remembered his conversation with Fisher. "He'll listen to me."

"Right." Sam shook his head. "Just like you listen."

Dean glanced up at him. "I'm listening to Mac."

"Un huh." The younger Winchester frowned, taking the chair on the other side of the bed. "For now."

His brother went back to watching Reaves unmoving form, and Sam wished there was something he could say to help. Caleb's words about Dean's fear of losing those he cared about floated to his thoughts and he licked his lips, searching for a way to broach the subject.

"He said he would be okay. No matter what…he'd be okay."

Dean looked up at him. "Do you believe that?"

Sam stared down at his hands for a moment, weighing his words carefully. So much of what he believed had been tested in the last week. If he lied, his brother would know instantly. But the truth escaped him. Sam wasn't sure if there was such a thing any more. "I believe in Caleb."

Dean nodded, his jaw clenching. "Yeah." He looked away, and Sam got the impression he'd said the right thing for a change. "Did he say anything else?"

Sam felt his mouth twitch. "Yeah."

His brother glanced expectantly at him again and Sam pushed for a decent imitation of his lop-sided grin. "He told me to tell you to stop holding his hand like a freakin' girl."

Dean snorted. "Sounds about right." He looked back to Caleb. "Jerk."

Sam exhaled loudly and his brother's gaze came back up to focus on him. "What?"

The younger man shrugged. "I was just thinking."

"That's never good."

Sam rolled his eyes. "I think that maybe we've been going about this the wrong way."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, maybe instead of trying to keep Mac and Caleb out of the fight, we should bring them in closer."

Dean frowned. "What about the whole everyone around us dies thing? Or our family is cursed bit?"

Sam looked at him then cut his eyes to Reaves. "Pushing him away didn't keep him safe." The younger Winchester met his brother's gaze again. "We're doing the same thing Dad did to us. It won't help."

Dean sighed, ducking his head. "I don't know, Sammy…"

"We 're stronger as a family Dean."

The haunting words brought the older Winchester's gaze back to his brother and Dean felt his eyes sting. "What happens when there's no family left, Sam?"

Sam watched his brother for a moment, recognizing the hurt look. It was one he had seen only a few times before and at that moment he would have said anything to make everything right-to erase the pain from Dean's face. Maybe it was time he took a vow to protect Dean. "I'll do everything in my power to make sure you never find that out, big brother. I promise."

February 7,2007