Title: Through Autumn's Golden Gown
Disclaimer: Sam, Dean, their Dad, Bobby, Caleb and Pastor Jim all belong to Kripke and the CW.
Summary: An ordinary black dog hunt turns problematic when Dean disappears half-way through. Wee!Chester fic. Some Hurt!Dean and Worried!Everyone Else.
Author's notes: This is the last part. Hope you all enjoyed the ride. Thanks again to TraSan for the wonderful beta. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is always welcome!
When Bobby's phone rang, he allowed himself a brief buzz of excitement. John, meanwhile, didn't even look up from writing in his journal. A quick check of the display revealed the name 'Caleb' and Bobby was tempted not to answer except that Caleb's name had been mentioned during the mammoth game of phone tag.
"Bobby Singer," he growled down the line.
"It's Caleb," The weapon-mad hunter sounded understandable nervous. The last time Bobby parted from Caleb, he'd told the younger hunter he'd shoot him if he ever saw him again. Admittedly that wasn't the first time Bobby had parted from a fellow hunter so but it was one of the first he'd meant. Jasper had been a good dog and it'd been a bad way to go.
"What do you want?" Bobby said in a voice that threatened evisceration with a blunt knife if this wasn't good. Bobby was proud of managing to convey that exact threat in so few words.
The message came loud and clear to Caleb as the man cleared his throat and coughed a little nervous, "Erm, you know anyone misplaced a kid?"
Bobby felt like someone had sunk a meaty fist dead-square into his gut, "What's it look like?" He asked, voice rough. He glanced to John to see if the man had taken any note of Bobby's deliberately vague question. John's head was still buried in the journal though his hand flicked out towards the unopened bottle of whiskey standing sentry on the table before returning back to the pages of his work.
"It?" Caleb quizzed. "Well, it's in its early teens, dark blonde hair, green eyes, helluva mouth on him. Had a run in with Cujo."
"I think I might know where it belongs," Bobby choked out, feeling his throat constrict. "Where are you?"
That got John's attention but just for the man to scowl and ask, "Lining up your next job already?" Bobby ignored John, unwilling to get John's hopes up only to shatter them again, even if the description fit Dean to a T thus far.
"Promise not to shoot me?" Caleb jested then in all seriousness added, "I'm at the Grey Buzzard motel, room three twelve." Bobby wasn't surprised that Caleb was being helpful, Dean had that effect on people—He half wondered if he should try using holy water on the boy at some point.
"What sort of condition is it in?" Bobby asked, jaw clenching and heart racing.
"Slightly chewed," Caleb responded. "And what's with all the 'it's? Oh!" Caleb said and Bobby could almost hear Caleb's smile. "Is the owner with you?"
"I believe so," Bobby glowered at his innocent phone.
"Thank god!" There was honest relief in Caleb's voice. "The kid's alright. His left foot is a bit of a mess but I've stitched it up. Be a lot better if he'd quit trying to walk on it. Had a fever but I brought it down."
"You the one that retrieved it?" Bobby asked, unsure himself of why he kept the pretence up now he was certain it was the oldest Winchester boy with Caleb.
"Yep, damn lucky I spotted him as small as that hole was. You cleared up the canine problem?"
"It's taken care of." Bobby flinched from the memory of John's desolation as he fired bullet after bullet into the body of the beast he thought had claimed the life of his boy. God forbid he ever have to see that again.
"You or the owner?"
"The owner," Bobby said in a grim voice.
There was a long pause down the line. "I woulda told you straight away if I'd know the boy was one of yours." Caleb said, pre-emptively defending himself.
"I know," Bobby said, finding it surprisingly easy to allow Caleb some leeway. It was the fellowship of the Dean, a select group who watched out for the boy, a group that on a good day included John and even rarer included Dean himself.
"The kid didn't help. Gave me a fake name, refused to tell me where he was staying, couldn't remember his dad's cell phone number."
Bobby was sure of the root of Dean's obtuse behaviour, "There's a smaller model available." He hoped Caleb caught the gist.
"A little brother? That explains everything. Had one of those myself once upon a time." Bobby thought Caleb's voice sounded wistful. "Your runt is fast asleep at the moment. How long will it take you to get here?"
Bobby darted his eyes to John, sure the other hunter would notice this, "We're the other side of town, it'd be a good twenty minutes."
True to Bobby's guess, John immediately looked over, "Another hunter in town?"
Bobby felt guilty for holding John off but knew it'd be best to explain all at once, "One, Caleb."
"Okay, I'll let the boy know. See you soon, Bobby," Caleb answered.
Bobby pressed down on the end call and turned back to John, "That was Caleb."
"So I gathered," John's voice was calm as long as you ignored the crack in it or the tension in his hands squeezing the pen almost to crushing point.
Bobby joined John at the table, holding his gaze, "I think he's got Dean. At least he found a kid fitting Dean's description in the right location."
John didn't form any words for a good minute, his mouth opening and closing and tears trickling ignored down tanned cheeks. "Dean," The word was an atheist's rejoicing prayer. "What are we waiting for?"
Bobby found himself grinning as euphoria swept his veins, "Nothing at all. He's in a motel across town. Take my truck?"
John shook his head, "Dean'll want to see the Impala. I'm probably gonna end up giving him that car." John's grin was infectious and he murmured, "My boy," with pride and affection.
"He's one in a million, that's for sure," Bobby agreed. "Let's go get him."
Caleb felt a little guilty as he shook 'David's' shoulder, "Hey kiddo, wake up."
'David' opened bleary hazel-green eyes and pulled back a little. "Hey," his mouse-quiet voice said.
"Just thought you'd like to know; your dad and Bobby Singer are on their way here," Caleb delighting in the casual way he imparted the information.
The boy bolted upright, almost nutting Caleb, "Really?"
"Really," Caleb promised. "Might be an idea for you to get ready to go." He held out the mostly dry clothes, still warm from the heater.
The boy dressed with the rapidity of one well-used to it, tugging on his jeans with just a mild wince as the denim scraped against bandages. "You spoke to my dad?" He quizzed, practically bouncing.
"I spoke to Bobby who said your dad was with him." Or rather the veteran hunter had implied as much.
"What about Sammy?" 'David' asked and promptly slapped a hand over his mouth.
"Bobby mentioned you had a sibling but it didn't seem like he was with them. Someone could be looking after him."
"Probably," The boy said though an undercurrent of worry ran through his young voice. The boy eyed his boots warily, looking to his feet.
"Don't worry about them," Caleb said. "I doubt your father'll let your feet touch ground once he gets here."
The words were supposed to be reassuring but the boy looked trouble. "Dad'll be mad. I shouldn't have fallen for the black dog's tricks."
Caleb ruffled the kid's hair, "If Bobby's reaction is any guide, your father will be far too glad to see you living to have any thought of scolding you."
"You don't know my dad," 'David' said, though the edge of worry was gone.
"How's the pain?" Caleb inquired.
"It's fine," The boy quickly said and Caleb just as quickly didn't believe a word of it. He went to the cabinet and fished out a couple more painkillers along with a glass of water, frowning down at the boy until he obligingly swallowed them.
"Just don't put anymore weight on that foot. You mess my handiwork and your father will probably get mad at me, not you. Want me to carry you to the couch?" Caleb offered, knowing the couch was that bit closer to the door.
'David' glanced between the door and couch, independence warring with the terrible need to see his father. "Yeah, alright," He finally said, his tone implying he was somehow doing Caleb a favour.
Caleb scooped up the boy and carried him over, minimising the period when the boy had to show weakness.
'David' sat upright and fixed his eyes on the door, watching it as his right foot tapped a rhythm.
Caleb felt unaccountably nervous for what would just be Bobby and another man walking in, stealing away the boy and leaving. Perhaps, Caleb mused on reflection, that was the problem.
It was just ten minutes later that the noise of an engine turning into the motel parking lot was audible. The boy leant towards the door and jittered, "Dad brought the Impala?"
"Your dad drives an Impala?" Caleb asked, impressed. He wasn't much of a car fan but he appreciated a sweet motor.
"'67, Cherry black," The boy stated, not peeling his eyes from the door. Caleb had a feeling the lad could recite the exact spec.
Caleb counted the heartbeats until there was a loud knock on the door. Caleb pointed a finger at the boy, admonishing him to stay on the couch then opened the door a crack. Bobby's face was visible and another man behind him, younger but aged by worry. He bore little resemblance to the boy inside and Caleb felt a stab of worry that this'd been for nothing and it was another man's boy on Caleb's couch, "Bobby."
"Caleb," The mechanic's voice held surprising warmth. "Going to let us in?"
It was now or never so Caleb nudged the door open further, revealing the whole of the room.
The man with Bobby briefly noted Caleb then his eyes slid straight past to the couch. The expression on his face was unmistakable relief, "Dean!"
Caleb stepped out of the way to avoid being stampeded as the man rushed to the couch and seized the boy—Dean, Caleb reminded himself—up into a bone-crushingly tight hug before tugging him back and staring him in the eyes, "Don't you ever scare me like that again, Deano." The man gently shook the slight figure clinging to him, "You hear me? Don't you ever do that to me again."
Dean crushed himself into his father, muttering denials into a shoulder damp with tears.
The father stood, one thickly muscled arm keeping his boy pressed to him; the other was offered to Caleb, "John Winchester. This my boy, Dean."
"Caleb Hawkins," Caleb took the proffered hand and shook it firmly, keen to make a good impression. "Glad to reunite you with your boy. Want a coffee?" He offered.
"We should start towards Jim's," John turned down the offer. "Sammy'll want to see his brother." Dean'd been rock-still clung to his dad but his head shot up at his brother's name. "Sam's fine," His father reassured. "Pastor Jim is taking care of him." Dean nodded and dropped back against his father.
"Guess this is goodbye then," Caleb felt a pang of regret and had to remind himself it was just a kid.
Dean's head lifted up towards him and his father's head followed. "You are welcome to come with us to Pastor Jim's," The man offered. "He's a damn good cook and he'll have rooms to spare. I owe you for taking care of my boy."
"He was no bother," Caleb dismissed the invitation.
"No bother?" Bobby said with a chuckle. "He really must've been sick."
The kid raised his head dozily off his father's shoulder and flipped Bobby off. Caleb waited for the explosion. Bobby just laughed and returned the gesture leaving Caleb almost gaping. The fact that veteran, venerable hunter Bobby Singer had a soft spot for a kid would be gold dust in most of the hunter haunts.
John just snorted and turned to Caleb, "I mean it. Bother or not, I still owe you at least a thousand beers."
Caleb turned to Bobby, expecting the older hunter to be scowling but his eyes were fixed on Dean with an oddly dopey grin on his face. "Who can turn down an offer like that?"
"Good," John said. "Bobby, you want a lift back to your truck then follow us from there?"
"I can drive from here," Caleb said. "Got my car outside."
John shook his head, "Want to talk to you. Bobby can drop you back here later." The fact that John'd never come back to this place again was clear. Caleb wasn't sure whether to feel nervous about the promised talk.
He gathered up a couple of day's worth of clothes and stowed them in a small bag, taking a cut-down version of his arsenal. No sense going naked.
John and Bobby were chatting when he finished though Dean looked to have fallen asleep at his perch. John broke off to nod to him, "Ready to go?"
They moved out with military precision, Bobby taking shotgun as John laid his son out across the backseat. Caleb slid in the side, ending up with Dean's head resting on his thigh.
They dropped Bobby off at a small apartment building and Caleb wondered if he should move to the front but Dean seemed comfortable and Caleb was loathe to move him. John didn't seem to object and Dean was fully asleep a mere ten minutes after Bobby left.
"So you got my boy out of the woods?" John asked, his voice deceptively casual and his eyes not turning for the road, even if Caleb felt the man glanced in his rear view more than necessary. He suspected the eyes weren't checking on him.
"Yeah. I must have been out hunting the same black dog as you. Spotted the tracks and found your boy by accident."
Caleb fumbled for words, his usual clinical diagnosis seemed inappropriate for talking to a father. He tried his best to find a middle ground without sounding incompetent. "His foot was chewed up but I cleaned it out with holy water and put him on antibiotics, I've got the rest of the course in my duffel for him. The rest of the bites are superficial. Had a nasty fever from his hours in the woods but I brought it down so he's not in any danger there though you might have to keep an eye on it."
"Good," John said. "Found the place that Deano holed up in, damn small. Nearly too damn small."
"Your boy would've found another place, he's sharp." The words were mostly false reassurance. Sharp or not, it was sheer luck that had got the boy away from the jaws of the dog.
"Perhaps," John said. "So how did you get into hunting?"
Caleb blinked at the sudden change of topic and thought over what version of the truth to tell. "Monster got my little brother, never figured out what."
John nodded sagely, the story was probably akin to most other hunters that hadn't gotten into it for the bloodlust. "Demon got my wife," He said after a pause. There was a solemn moment as both men reflected on their losses. "How do you know Bobby?"
"Worked together once," Caleb reflected guiltily. "Didn't end well."
"Lost the victim?" John asked with a modicum of sympathy.
"Accidentally killed Bobby's dog," Caleb admitted.
John stifled a laugh, "Damn, how'd that happen?"
"I lobbed a grenade after the beast, Jasper decided it was a good time to play fetch."
John winced, "Nasty."
"Aye, could've been worse if the dog had made it back to us. Bobby told me he'd shoot me if he saw me again. I'm just waiting."
"Think you earned your way into his good books," John raised his eyes to the rear view mirror and Caleb could tell he was watching Dean.
"Or he's just waiting 'til Dean won't hear the shot."
"Could be," John shrugged nonchalantly. "You been a hunter your whole life?"
Caleb shook his head, "Joined the military for a while out of school. Was one of my fellow soldiers, guy from N'orleans, who told me that maybe the monster I'd seen hadn't just been a nightmare. Finished my tour of duty, came home and started my new one."
"Jarhead," John replied and Caleb knew he hadn't missed the mark with the man's military bearing. "Left when Dean was born to be around for Mary." John's eyes flicked up the rear view again, "My boy okay?"
"He's fast asleep. Don't think he slept right when you weren't there."
"He'll sleep better when Sammy's there," Dean murmured in his sleep at the mere mention of his little brother's name. "Those two act like twins half the time."
"Know what that's like," Caleb replied, a flash of memory bringing his brother's face back to total clarity.
"Sorry 'bout your brother," John said sincerely.
"Sorry about your wife," Caleb replied, equally sincere. "You found the bastard yet?"
John shook his head, "Trail gone cold. As soon as it raises its head, I'll have it."
"If you need another pair of hands…" Caleb offered, not entirely sure why he did and a good part of him hoped the older man didn't take him up on his offer.
"S'my fight," John turned down the offer. "But thanks. It'll be a good five and a half hours to Jim's, get some kip if you want." When Caleb made to object, John added, "Dean can wear me out at the best of times, let alone when he's sick."
"He was no bother," Caleb patted the boy's head.
"Didn't say he was a bother, said he was exhausting."
Caleb grinned and laid his head against the door. In minutes he fell into the first restful sleep since retrieving a mud-coated boy from the woods.
Pastor Jim had been dreading the moment his phone would ring so when the simple, off-white device began its innocuous notification, he hesitated to pick it up. Denying the truth never made it less true and so Jim picked up the receiver, "Pastor Jim."
"Jim, it's Bobby." The buoyant tone sent hope into the Pastor.
"Yes?" The one word contained a dozen questions.
"We're on our way there," Jim decided he needed a stern word to Bobby about drawing out conversations.
"We?" He said in the stern voice that had most of his parishioners worrying about hell and damnation if they dared disobey.
"Me, John, another hunter called Caleb… and Dean," Sheer joy bled through on Bobby's last word.
"Dean," Jim breathed out the word. "He is alive."
"Just slightly chewed," Bobby said. "Caleb is the one got him out. Never liked him much 'til now."
"I will forgive him all seven of the deadlies if he brings Dean back to us. You sure he is alright?"
"Saw him with my own two eyes. Bit subdued, hung off John like a sweater most of the time but he'll bounce back."
"Thank God!" Pastor Jim exclaimed, "I will wake Sam. He was convinced his brother would be coming home, I guess I should have listened."
"I best get back to the road."
"On the phone while you are driving?" Jim chided.
"You'd rather I hadn't rung you?" Bobby pointed out.
"Of course not," Pastor Jim didn't mind his own hypocrisy. "I will see you soon." Pastor Jim hung up the phone and sent a prayer of thanks to the God he never lost faith in, even if he sometimes wondered about the madness to the method.
He fixed a mug of hot chocolate, tiny white marshmallows frothing the surface, and then went into Sam and Dean's room. Sam was twisted and tangled in the blankets, fists bunching the cover tight even in sleep. Jim put the drink at the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed.
Eyes more hazel than blue in the dim light instantly opened and regarded the Pastor warily, "Dean?"
Jim was not so cruel as to draw out the telling as Bobby had to him, "Your dad and Bobby are bringing him here. He's alive and mostly well."
Pastor Jim had an instant armful of sobbing, relieved Sam, hiccups and sniffles rendering words incomprehensible.
The man of god just rubbed the child's back, repeated the words 'Dean's alive' over and over as much to himself as to Sammy.
"When'll they get here?" Sam asked, swiping the evidence of his tears away.
"It will be a good five hours," Jim admitted.
"Good," Sam said and Jim arched a silver eyebrow. "We need to get the room ready and start Dean's favourite meal cooking. We should do banana muffins and choc chip cookies." Sam was talking faster and faster like a fountain allowed to bubble again.
"Then I guess it is a good thing my kitchen is stocked." The hunter creed: expect the worst but wait for the best. "Lasagne with real garlic bread?"
"With the mushrooms," Sam said. "Dean likes it with the mushrooms."
"He does?" The Pastor asked in surprise, the teenager had never mentioned that. "I guess we best make it with mushrooms. Join me in the kitchen when you are done getting dressed."
As the Pastor had expected, his shoes had barely touched the kitchen tiles than Sam's footsteps thundered down the stairs and Sam was there, dressed in a t-shirt the Pastor thought was his brother's and the hot chocolate mug clutched in his hands.
The hours passed in a flurry of slicing and dicing, kneading and crushing until the kitchen was heady with a mix of rich aromas. Moments before the kitchen timer dinged, the welcoming purr of the Impala's engine came from outside. Jim had expected Sam to dash straight for the door so it was a surprise to find the boy hovering in the kitchen doorway.
"Dean really is alright, isn't he?" Sam addressed Jim, front teeth biting nervously down into his bottom lip.
Jim ruffled a hand through Sam's hair, a gesture hard to resist given the child's long mop. "Bobby says so and you know we can trust him. Come on, let's go see your brother."
A knock on the door came mere moments before Jim got to it and he threw open the door. John stood close there with Dean wrapped up in his arms, head tilted against John's broad shoulder. Just behind him was a man Jim didn't recognise with close-cropped military hair and at least four weapons concealed that Jim could identify at a glance.
Sam ghosted behind Jim, staring up at his brother. "Why's he so still?"
"He's just sleeping," John replied, his lack of sleep clear in the gruff texture of his voice. "He's had a rough few days." Haven't we all, Pastor Jim thought to himself and privately agreed with Sam's assessment: Dean motionless was disturbing.
"But we made lasagne," Sam protested his brother's sleep. "And real garlic bread and cookies and muffins and a cake and…" John glanced to Jim and arched a bushy brow to which Jim replied with a hapless shrug.
"How much has he eaten?" John called the question back to the other man who was still hovering in the house doorway, half-in and half-out, unwilling to intrude on the family scene.
"Just a few mouthfuls of soup," The man answered. "He's been out of it quite a bit and then fell asleep soon after I got him to eat."
"Sounds like he could use a good meal," John concluded and gently jostled his slumbering son. "Deano, wake up. Come on."
The first sign of Dean's return to consciousness was the twitch of his nose and then hazel-green eyes flicking open. He stared a little muzzily around and the Pastor breathed a sigh of relief at the awareness there. "Jim's?" He asked.
Sam scrabbled over to his father and tilted up to reach his brother, small hands patting his brother's body to remind himself his brother was real, "Dean!"
"Not s'loud, Sammy," Dean grumbled though there was little annoyance in the voice. "Down?" He asked his father.
"Keep the weight off that foot," John and the other hunter chimed in unison then John tilted Dean around to lower him slowly to the ground, keeping his arm wrapped about the boy's waist to keep him supported. Pastor Jim could see a swathe of bandages wrapping Dean's left foot and made a note to himself to check the repair work over once they were done eating.
Sam batted around his family like a moth at a campfire, finally nudging himself in next to his brother's bad side, "Lean on me."
"Can't lean on you," Dean retorted. "Too small."
"Am not! Pastor Jim said he thought I'd be taller than you some day."
"Pastor Jim lied."
"Pastor Jim isn't allowed to lie, the bible says so."
"Bible says you can't drink either but the sloe gin don't drink itself every year," Dean stated and Pastor Jim bit back a laugh. The three Winchesters made an awkward progression towards the homely smell of the kitchen, both uninjured men trying to support Dean at the same time and neither giving an inch.
The Pastor made his way towards the outsider, "Pastor Jim Murphy." He offered out his palm.
"Caleb Hawkins," The man replied and shook the hand firmly. "They always like that?" He nodded to the still audible noise of the Winchester progression.
"Oh no," Jim replied. "Usually Dean is much worse. He's not at his best at the moment. Come on in, I've heard people call my lasagne the best in the state and between us, I think me and Sammy cooked enough food to feed the five thousand twice over."
Caleb took a step forward and lingered there, "Maybe I should head off. I'm not needed here."
"Nonsense," Pastor Jim argued. "I don't know about John but I know I owe you so I need you to sit down, eat your own body weight in food and keep John and Sammy from mothering poor Dean to death and back. Not to mention I will need another line of defence when Bobby gets here and tries to steal all the cookies."
Caleb shot the pastor a disbelieving look, obviously he had never been informed of Bobby's rampant cookie thievery. It was not right for a man to go uneducated on such an important matter. "Can't turn down an offer like that," He said as he trailed Pastor Jim into the kitchen.
The Winchester boys were already seated with Sam having pulled his chair right up close to Dean's. John was doling giant portions of the lasagne up onto plates and one piece of garlic bread was already missing, a suspicious greasy smear at the corner of John's mouth giving clue to its whereabouts. "Hope you don't mind," He gestured to Jim with a mince-splattered spoon.
"Of course not, just leave some for the rest of us." Jim helped John with the serving, placing hunks of garlic bread onto two of the plates and ferrying them over to the spots in front of Dean and Caleb.
The roar of Bobby's truck was audible even through the hubbub of chatter in the kitchen and the grizzled hunter didn't even bother knocking, just bustled in through the door left ajar. "Hope you've left some of that food for me." Bobby said, dumping down a couple of bags full of the Winchester's worldly possessions before plopping himself down to a seat at the table and snitching a piece of Dean's garlic bread.
Dean responded by stuffing the remaining piece into his mouth and Pastor Jim had to admire his capacity even as Dean's jaw worked to try and work the bread into small enough pieces to swallow. It didn't go unnoticed, at least by Jim, that the boy was having to put a lot more effort than normal into that simple action.
Jim carried the next two plates to the table for Sam and Bobby and immediately took one of the pieces of garlic bread off Bobby's plate and placed it on Dean's. Dean smirked and stuck a tongue littered with mushy bread out at Bobby.
"Dean," Sam whined. "That's disgusting. Chew it, don't view it."
Dean responded to his little brother by flicking a pea at him though the aim was off and it ended up landing back on Sam's plate. Sam immediately set out trying to identify the invading pea and evict it. Pastor Jim rolled his eyes and took a seat as John brought over the last two plates.
"Dean, care to say grace?" He addressed the boy whose fork was poised halfway to his mouth.
Dean solemnly put down the fork and folded his hands. Pastor Jim mentally prepared himself for whatever would come next, sure that it was nothing he could put into next Sunday's sermon. "Good food. Good meat. Good Lord! Let's eat." Dean rattled the words off and dug his fork into the pile.
Pastor Jim was too glad to see the spark of life back in the family Winchester to object so he just joined in the eating and made a mental note to have a word with Dean later, glad that there would be a later to have.