Whew! Done at last!
I'm sorry it's taken such a long time to get this last chapter up, but I just couldn't get it right. Supernoodle deserves a medal (or a weeks worth of subway sandwiches) for putting up with my pitiful attempts at this and for making it better. She totally rocks the Kasbah!
Thanks one last time to Ridley for allowing me to play in the world of the Brotherhood. It was fun!
"One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick closer than a brother.
His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,
In season or out of season.
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water."
Later, John would discount it as a tired mind playing up, coupled with years of intense training, but for those few moments of his life, he felt as if he knew the balance had shifted.
It wasn't something he could put his finger on; a sharper smell to the air, a taste in his mouth, he couldn't tell. Perhaps even a good old fashioned tingle down his spine.
Whatever is was, his movements slowed and as in any good partnership, his companion read the signals and matched him, noting his extra vigilance.
Glancing across at the Pastor, he saw the question in the man's eyes. Reading the minimal tracks, praying Caleb had left him another clue; John scanned the area for an answer to give Jim. Admitting he had the willies wasn't going to do his reputation any good.
Caleb could feel the walls Delanely had built around him. He knew he wasn't strong enough or experienced enough to break through them, but that didn't stop him from throwing himself at them time and again, testing the foundations for cracks, searching for a gap to escape through. Delanely didn't appear to find his random thoughts very straining, but Caleb kept at it, hitting him with no pattern, no plan.
Simply keeping up the charade.
Caleb had been disappointed when John had told him, during one of their first hunts together, that sometimes you have to bow to the inevitable and concede defeat. Caleb hadn't thought John Winchester a man who knew the taste of defeat in battle, not when he'd seen him personally bull-doze his way out of what looked like a sound beating by an angry poltergeist.
If he hadn't before, John had taken on comic-book super-hero proportions that night, throwing off the furniture that pinned him with a roar and diving for his gun, blasting both rounds at the spirit who had shrieked into nothingness long enough for a salt'n'burn, Winchester style, into the next world.
The man was a freaking machine, a standard for the never-say-dies to aspire to. Which was why Caleb had been so disenchanted on the way home as John had offered up that morsel.
Seeing the kid frown, John had smiled that soft, dangerous smile and amended. For a while, at least, he'd said, whisper quiet and Caleb had waited eagerly for more.
Lull your capturer into a false sense of security, do what he expects you to do for long enough and he'll be powerless when your real attack comes.
Caleb had never had to put that theory into practice, but he was good at thinking on his feet and he knew exactly what game he was playing. It felt a little like cat and mouse. And like the cat, Caleb could be very patient when he wanted something.
From where he was hidden, Caleb had a clear view of the route he and the men had taken. He watched, waiting for John or the Pastor to make an appearance and almost sighed in relief when he saw a snatch of movement break the monotony of the silent woods. He threw his mind against Delanely's, and used the distraction instantly. Recoiling from his latest attempt to break through the other psychics enclosing walls, Caleb took a deep breath. Delanely turned to him just as the teenager bellowed.
His shout rattled off the trees, ringing in the silence that followed.
Delanely growled softly. "You're pushing it, Caleb," he warned, as a shot rang out, making Caleb jump. He wondered absently if he'd ever get as used to the noise as John appeared to be.
The hunters wasted no time in getting themselves behind a tree each for cover. They shared a glance across the distance separating them before John moved left and Jim right. Two targets would be harder to shoot, especially coming from different angles. Within moments of leaving the relative safety their trees provided, a shot was fired, to John's grim satisfaction, allowing him to know the direction of his opponent immediately.
John barely noticed the sting as a bullet tore a shallow scratch across his upper arm and embedded itself in a tree behind him, the hot wash of blood that followed accenting just how cold the rest of his body felt, but that was as far as he allowed recognition of the wound to go.
Instead, he concentrated on tracing the sound. Whoever the shooter had been had obviously tried not to reveal his location until the last possible second, but now John followed the sound back to its source.
Another shot sounded in the dense woods, this time coming from the direction John had seen Jim take. Switching targets easily, John left the Pastor to deal with the gunman, while he focused on Caleb's shout instead.
Since his cry, nothing more had been heard, and certainly nothing had moved, so John knew the kid was still in the same spot, most likely being guarded by the psychic.
Psychics held no fear for John, he was a man with an iron will and by Mac's own admission, his mental walls were solid. If anyone wanted to get into John's head without permission, they were going to be sorely disappointed.
Warren Delanely was worried. He could feel the Pastor out in the forest, could hear the loud, low sounds of the guns, but for some reason John Winchester was flying under the radar. He peered anxiously through the gloom.
John had circled back, using Caleb's shout as a last known location and guide. For a big man, John could move as silent as a spirit when he chose, and he had a lot to motivate him just now.
He soon found himself looking at the back of the psychic's head. Holding his breath, John Winchester crept towards his prey, lifting his rifle in preparation.
Delanely turned at the last moment. Before he could take a breath to shout out, bright light flared without warning as a sharp blow ignited pain through his temple and he lost consciousness.
Cohen was having his own problems. Every time he managed to get a shot off, Jim was ready with his own fire, dogging his movements and shutting down hopes of escape.
Cohen, realising he wasn't going to shake the Pastor, doubled back towards the psychic and the children. Their only hope was to use the boys as hostages now, to somehow barter their way out of the situation. He frowned seeing Delanely laid low by a powerful cuff to the head, courtesy of Winchester's rifle butt, but once the group were close and in clear sight, Cohen raised his gun. One last shot rang through the forest.
Caleb let out a startled shout as the body landed beside him. Although it wasn't the first he had seen, it was the first dead body since his grandmother had died and now, as it had then, strong memories of his parents' deaths rose in his mind.
Panting, the boy found himself unable to tear his eyes from the gruesome sight, Cohen's face mercifully hidden in the snow. John dropped down next to him.
"Caleb! Look at me!" John demanded. He gripped the boy by the shoulders. "Look at me!"
Slowly the teen brought his frozen gaze from the corpse to John. He gripped Dean tighter still. "John?"
"Alright kid, take it easy."
John reached to take his son from Caleb, but the older boy simply blinked up at him. Finally getting a close look at Dean, John's heart rate jumped. "Dean!"
Flinching at John's shout, Caleb scrambled back, taking Dean with him.
"What's wrong with him?"
"N-nothing!" Caleb whispered. "He's okay, John, he's okay."
Jim, materialising out of the darkness, quickly assessed the situation. "Let's get the boys back to the farm," he suggested quietly, but firmly. "They've been out in the cold for too long already."
John once more reached to take his son from Caleb, frightened by the limpness of his child's body and the slowness of his breath, but the kid glanced hopefully at Jim.
The Pastor understood the look his Caleb's eyes. "John, why don't you take custody of Delanely? Come on, son."
This last was said to Caleb, who unfolded himself from the ground, averting his eyes from the body cooling beside him and shifting his precious burden in his awkward, one-armed grip. Dean's head lolled alarmingly and John tenderly lifted it back to the teens shoulder.
"What happened?" he asked quietly meeting and holding Caleb's gaze.
"I had to do it," the boy told him. "Delanely would have hurt him. I had to lock his mind away."
The words terrified the hunter, but he fought not to let it show. Instead, he nodded, telling Caleb he understood. At least, as much as he ever could understand the world of the psychic.
Mac straightened from inspecting Dean, still held tight by Caleb. The teens arm had been hastily splintered and bandaged, Caleb protesting the whole time that Mac should see to Dean instead but not once letting go of the boy. The doctor had been mostly silent throughout.
"Well?" John insisted.
Mac ran his fingers down his moustache thoughtfully. "The blackouts and bleeding are worrying," he admitted finally. "While I don't believe he's in immediate danger, those memories are only going to cause more problems."
"Then wake him up."
Jim had to feel sorry for his friend. John had shown remarkable restraint so far, but his patience was wearing thin, as the rough handling of the two captives in the barn had testified.
"I can't," Mac replied, turning to his own son. "Only Caleb can."
The teen nodded. "That's why Delanely couldn't get to him. He needed to keep me around."
"Then get going," John ground out.
Mac touched Caleb's shoulder. "Hold on a moment, son. First, tell me about these memories."
Caleb felt like the weight of the world rested on his shoulders.
He had been given specific instructions by Mac on how to erase the memories Dean carried with him and while that was daunting in itself, the expectant, anxious look on John's face was worse. Sometimes it was easy to forget the man was a father as well as a hunter and the Triad's Knight.
Caleb ignored the dark recesses of Dean's mind and concentrated on what that little door had looked like.
After several minutes of careful conjuring, Caleb found what he was looking for. He could see the door ahead of him.
Taking a step towards it, the door scooted back, so fast that Caleb had to break into a run to keep it in sight. Despite his best efforts, the door disappeared into the distance, and exhausted, Caleb returned back to the world of the hunters.
"Well?" John demanded, glancing from Dean to Caleb and back again.
The teen shook his head. "I can't reach the door," he panted.
"Caleb I swear, if you don't bring my son back this instant, I will end you!"
"John!" Mac snapped. "You're not helping, he's exhausted." He turned to his son. "Try again, Caleb. Remember what we talked about?"
"Dad?" the teen whimpered. "I don't think I can do it."
John snarled. "You'd better!"
Mac shot the hunter another angry glare, before turning back to his son.
"You can, Caleb, you put him there without any help. You're stronger than you think."
Caleb swallowed heavily; glancing at Dean cradled in his embrace and took a deep breath, trying to control his emotions and his mind.
He nodded decisively and closed his eyes, allowing his thoughts to drift until they latched onto Dean's sleeping mind.
As always, the deepest part of black flooded his wide eyes.
Caleb held his breath, waiting for some sign of Dean's presence, but none came. The teen focused on the image of the boy in his head, the door he had hidden him behind and once more it appeared in the distance.
Mustering up all his self-control, Caleb fought not to race towards it, but to allow it come to him. He waited, as patiently and calmly as he could, he waited for Dean to see him.
Once the door was close enough to touch, Caleb hesitantly rested his fingertips against it. He could feel Dean behind it, sense his presence.
"Dean? I'm opening the door, you can come out now."
He pulled the key from his pocket and fitted it into the lock, before remembering Dean's safe word. "Deuce, its okay, it's me."
He swung the door open, peering inside. At first, there was nothing within the closet and Caleb, worried, stepped inside. "Dean? Where are you?"
Dean appeared out of the dark, barrelling into Caleb, wrapping his arms around the teen tightly, his whole body trembling.
Caleb stroked the child's hair, surprised at the greeting, trying to make shushing noises. "Hey, it's alright, Deuce," he soothed. "I'm here, I'm here now. You okay?"
Dean nodded against him and Caleb rested a hand upon the top of his head. "I need you to trust me, kid," he began, trying to remember all Mac had told him. "I'm gonna get rid of the memories, okay?"
"Will it hurt?" Dean asked.
"No," Caleb promised. "It won't hurt anymore."
He focused on Dean's mind, finding where he kept the memories that weren't his own. Although it was purely symbolic, he felt a strange satisfaction as he pushed those memories; those foreign thoughts that couldn't ever have belonged to Dean, into the closet the child had created as a means to distance himself from them. Mac had told him he wasn't really sealing them behind a door, but the metaphor had been Dean's and it was important that the little boy believed them gone as much as it was important for Caleb to remove them.
He was, Mac had said, erasing them from Dean, and the only way Caleb could think about doing that, was to destroy them and the closet had seemed the ideal place.
Banishing the small room for the last time, as Caleb brought them home he happened to glance into the closet once more.
Yellow eyes glittered back at him.
Both boys opened their eyes at the same time, seeking and finding each other.
"Hey," Caleb greeted the younger boy gently. "Welcome back."
"What happened?" the child murmured. Suddenly his eyes widened. "Is he gone?"
Caleb frowned. "Gone?"
"The man … he followed me …" the small boy shut his eyes.
"Delanely?" Caleb guessed. "He's gone, Deuce."
"No, not him," Dean sighed, his eyes remaining closed as he turned his face into Caleb. "M'tired," he mumbled.
John reached for him, gently prying his son from the other boy's arms. "Dean?"
The five year old protested sleepily, opening his eyes when John called his name again.
"Hey, buddy, you with us?"
Dean woke properly once more, as Caleb stepped away. He looked around frantically, whimpering slightly.
John glanced worriedly at Mac, before turning his attention back to his boy. "Ace? What's wrong?"
Dean stared into the face of his father, gasped in fright and fought to free himself. John, surprised and anxious not to hurt him, let him go, a pang of something that felt like longing and envy shooting through his chest as Dean leapt towards Caleb, arms outstretched.
Caleb caught his headlong flight, allowing Dean to press close.
"Hey," he murmured, aware of the adults watching intensely, but turning his focus on Dean. "What's all this?"
The teen struggled to hear the boys words, buried as they were in his leg. "I thought you'd forgotten me."
Ignoring the slight vertigo and the protests of his tired, aching body, Caleb lent down to speak to Dean. "Never."
Dean lifted his face. "Are they bad men?"
Surprised, Caleb glanced at his dad before answering. "No, Dean. They're family." He gestured towards John. "Your dad, remember?"
"I don't remember," Dean whispered.
Caleb shot a worried look at Mac once more, fearing he had erased more than the Demon's memories.
"You're a little confused, Dean," the doctor said soothingly. "It'll come."
John couldn't contain himself any longer. He knelt on the floor, to be closer to Dean's height. "Dean? Don't you know me?"
Dean turned to face him, contemplating him for a moment, before nodding slowly. "Daddy?"
John reached towards Dean, taking hold of the front of his jacket and pulling the boy roughly towards him. Dean stumbled, his small fingers gripping his father's hands in an effort to steady himself.
"Why didn't you tell me?" the man demanded "Dean! Why didn't you tell me?" Dean stared at his father, mutely begging him to understand. "Answer me, Dean!"
From where he stood, Caleb could see Dean's eyes slowly fill with tears. They did nothing to dull the dark green depths, only adding to the intensity of his pleading gaze.
The teen strode forward, resting a firm hand on the man's shoulder.
"John," he murmured softly. "There was no way he could."
John blinked like a man slowly awakening and glanced from Caleb back to his child. One lone tear had dared to break past Dean's defences to roll slowly down his cheek.
With a sigh of gentle regret, John cupped the side of his son's head with his large hand, his thumb wiping the droplet away.
"I'm sorry, Dean," he whispered brokenly.
Caleb's heart wrenched when Dean smiled softly, reaching out to pat his father reassuringly on the shoulder.
"Its okay, Dad."
Caleb, his head pounding and his body aching, stepped away trying to keep steady and ignoring the little black spots that swam in his vision.
Mac must have been watching him closely, he frowned as Caleb swayed.
"S'okay dad, just a bit … dizzy."
John stood, reaching out to steady the teen as his knees buckled and his body fell into the hunters supporting arms. As Caleb's world darkened, he thought he heard Dean's frightened shout.
Long, dark lashes rested on cherubic cheeks. His lips were slightly pursed as if dolling out kisses, little boy promises of forgiveness and absolution.
Caleb didn't feel he deserved them.
He had awoken to the strange sensation of being pinned down on one side, opening his eyes to find a golden head resting upon his chest. Turning his head to one side, he saw Mac smiling at him.
"Hey," he murmured.
"Hey yourself," the doctor replied. "Feeling better?"
Caleb was. The various aches appeared to have diminished, the thumping headache had left and even his broken wrist was pleasantly numb.
Caleb gestured to the boy curled by his side. "What's going on?"
"He was worried," Mac replied, unable to hide his widening grin. "He wouldn't believe me when I told him you'd be alright. It appears he felt he trusted only the evidence of his own ears."
"He wanted to listen to your heart beating, Caleb. Dean wanted to be certain you were fine, but fell asleep not long after he nominated himself your personal watchdog."
Caleb felt oddly touched by Dean's gesture and lightly ran his fingers over the child's hair. "Is he okay?"
Mac shifted on his chair. "I believe so, yes. The memories are gone, at any rate and with them their side effects."
"I thought I'd done something wrong," Caleb admitted. "When he woke up and couldn't remember John."
"He went through quite a bit of stress, son, and was, in a sense, comatose for several hours. It's a perfectly normal circumstance."
"You might have warned us, Mac."
His father smiled. "And missed that touching scene between you two boys?"
"You're a sucker for hallmark, you know that?" Caleb glanced once more at Dean, his fingers still running through the soft hair. "I bet you're getting a kick out of this little stunt?"
"It's a scene to warm any father's heart. I worried that you didn't really bond with the boys, Caleb."
"Why's it so important, anyway?"
"They're John's children, son. You're going to be seeing an awful lot of them. Go back to sleep, Caleb. I'll be here when you wake up." Mac stood and reached to lift Dean.
Caleb shifted slightly. "Leave him be, Mac. You'll only wake him."
Mac lifted an eyebrow.
"He's had a long day, dad. And you said yourself, he's my watchdog, making sure my hearts still beating."
"Dean's a loyal child," Mac mused. "He was adamant he was going to look after you."
Caleb smiled, feeling the pull of sleep tug him under once more. "He's not such a bad kid." He admitted. "For a brat."
John sat down at the old wooden table, his coffee mug in hand.
"I don't like the idea of another group working against us," he growled. The night had been long and the relief of finding the boys only allowed tired muscles and weary eyes to make themselves known.
"I have to admit I don't like it myself," Jim agreed.
"Have either one of them told you anything?" John asked.
"No. Mac can't get much more out of them than I could, Delanely's blocking him again."
"We'll just have to be vigilant," John sighed. "One more thing to keep an eye out for."
"I'm going to do some digging, don't worry John."
Winchester nodded. "Did either one of you find anything about what caused those memories?"
"Both men claimed they had no idea what the memories contained. I believe them."
"Dean mentioned a demon..."
"We don't know what it was, John," Jim cautioned softly. "He was four, frightened and half asleep. Who knows what he saw? At that age –"
"At that age? How many four year olds can identify a demonic entity, Jim?"
The Pastor sighed. "He listens, John. He's termed it a demon based on what you've said in front of him."
"How often was Dean present when you spoke with Bobby? I don't need to tell you children are like sponges."
John raked a hand over his face, feeling every minute of that night. "He wasn't ... I didn't think he could ... I didn't know he was listening that whole time, not until Mac told me how aware he was."
"He was listening."
John was silent a moment, trying to corral his scattered thoughts.
"There's no way to see those memories now?"
Jim smiled sadly at his friend. "No, John. Mac thinks they're gone. He said Dean'll most likely forget all about having had them in time."
"How can he do that?" John wondered.
"They weren't his to begin with," the Pastor replied softly. "I suspect he'll bury what's left of them deep into his subconscious."
"Mac feels the boy's so exhausted he'll have a hard time remembering them too," Jim admitted, somewhat relieved, if only privately. "Some random images, perhaps."
John seemed to sag visibly at that news.
"So, we're no closer to finding what killed Mary? No new information as to what it was?" he shook his head, his voice bitter with disappointment. "Just more questions and half finished ideas."
Jim laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, John."
And he was. But if it meant that the little boy sleeping upstairs was safe for the time being, he could live with a little sorrow.