All is Well
A/N: Okay, I am past deadline, but so thankful I made it before Christmas just the same. I have Tidia to thank for that. She not only betaed this monster; but patched the holes and padded the weak frame adding her pros where I was at a loss. She's awesome, and I know Santa will be extra good to her. As I hope he is to all of you! Thank you for your kind reviews not only for this story but the others through out this past year. I really can't say how much it means. In other news, there are some great new videos from The Brotherhood AU out there. Both Tara and Sensue have done some excellent work and I think Sensue has a surprise in store for the new year. As well as a lot of very good stories by several authors. Tidia and I are always amazed so many talented people want to play in this Universe. I hope that continues. Thanks everyone and have a magical new year! The next chapter of To The Victor should be here in 2008.
P.S. For those die hard Dean girls, I promise my next big story The Edge of Winter goes back to my usual pattern of hurt Dean and then hurt him some more and then heap some angst on for good measure (grin).
Dean made it to Caleb first. The older hunter was suspended from the ceiling by his arms, his head lolled between his shoulders. "Damien!"
The seventeen-year-old stopped short of touching the other man. His chest tightened. He felt panic wash over him. The side of Caleb's face was stained with blood, as was his shirt and jeans.
"Is he breathing?"
Joshua's question forced Dean to reach up, rest one hand on the side of Caleb's face, the other at the base of his best friend's neck. "Caleb?"
The older hunter's skin was cold, but he had a pulse. Dean sent out a breathless thank you. "He's alive." Dean wanted to shout it again to reassure himself it was real. "He's alive," he said when Joshua didn't move.
"Damien?" Dean gave Caleb a shake. Whether it was the tone of his voice or the jostling, Reaves came to with a start.
The psychic's eyes widened in alarm, then snapped shut. "Arggh."
"Easy," Dean soothed. "It's me."
Caleb coughed. He met Dean's concerned gaze with glassy eyes, his face twisted in pain. "Deu…ce?"
"Yeah. Hold on. I've got you." Dean reluctantly removed his touch, handed his knife to Joshua. "Here. Cut him down."
Joshua took the blade and waited for Dean to get a better grip on the hunter. Sawyer kept one hand on Caleb's bound wrists, using the other to slice through the rope. Dean took Caleb's weight as Joshua eased the injured hunter's arms down.
Caleb groaned. "Damn…it."
"You okay?" Dean asked as they carefully settled the psychic on the ground.
Caleb didn't answer. His eyes were closed tightly. He panted through gritted teeth.
"Talk to me, Damien." Dean stripped off his pack. He used his jacket to cover Caleb. "Where are you hurt?"
Reaves eyes fluttered. Dean placed a hand on his chest. "Come on." Dean rubbed his friend's sternum. "Keep your eyes open. Stay awake."
Caleb groaned again. "Cold…"
"Yeah. I bet." Dean leaned closer, pressed his hand to the other hunter's forehead. "Can you tell us what hurts?"
It took a moment but Caleb finally complied. "Right ear… doesn't hurt."
Caleb's voice was scratchy rough but the smart-assed reply had Dean's eyes stinging. He laughed. "That's good to know, Dude."
"Here." Joshua handed Dean his canteen. "Small sips," he added as he pulled a thermal blanket from Dean's pack. "We're lucky it's warmer in here than outside. Still, hypothermia could be an issue."
Dean started to tell Sawyer he knew how to do preliminary field triage, but he was too damn relieved Caleb wasn't in the same shape as Rick. He took the flask, lifted Caleb's head to give him a drink. "Man, it's so damn good to see your sorry ass. I thought I was going to have to face the evil carolers alone this year."
Caleb winced as Dean eased him back to the ground. "What's…hap'ning?"
"These wounds on his leg are bad." Joshua continued his masquerade as a doctor. "They look infected."
Dean glanced to the tears in Caleb's jeans. The top portion of his right leg was exposed; jagged slashes ran parallel, traveling up from his knee disappearing beneath the intact denim. The bleeding had stopped on its own at some point, but the cuts were puffy and pink. Dean wondered if Wendigos were poisonous. He cut his gaze to where Ian was still standing motionless in front of Rick. "Josh, help Hastings cut the girl and Rick down."
"Hastings?" Caleb tried to move his head as he watched Joshua stand and walk away. "Rick?"
"Take it easy." Dean anticipated the move, placing a restraining hand on the psychic's chest. "Joshua and Ian have him covered." He held the canteen to Caleb's lips again. "Take another drink."
Caleb took a couple of greedy gulps and choked. Dean pulled the water away. "Go slow."
Caleb nodded, then winced. Dean touched the gash at the edge of his friend's hairline. "You got a good size lump there, Damien. What is it with you and head injuries?"
"Luck." Caleb hissed.
Dean let his fingers slide to the other hunter's neck and took his pulse. It was racing. "It'll be okay. We're going to get you out of here."
Caleb's breath quickened. "I…can't feel my arms."
"Nothing permanent, Damien." Dean smiled, tried for reassuring. "Give it a minute. You'll probably be wishing for the numbness to come back before long." He had no doubt once Caleb's blood flow returned to normal; the man would be in a world of hurt.
Caleb swallowed, then closed his eyes. "Deuce…tell me."
Dean let his hand slide through Caleb's hair. "We thought you were dead, man." Despite the dire situation, the seventeen-year-old felt a wash of relief. He could breathe easy again. Caleb was alive.
Caleb opened his eyes, frowning in confusion. "What…"
Dean cleared his throat. "Yeah. You've been hanging around in some sick cannibal's meat locker for almost three days. I'm guessing you were going to be the goose in a Wendigo Christmas dinner. But we…"
"Oh God!" Caleb jerked, his eyes wildly searching the area around them. "Where…Where'd it go?"
"Hey. Hey. Take it easy."
"Dean…get out of here!"
"Dude, the Donner party isn't home."
"No…" Caleb shook his head. "It'll know you're here…It's psychic. It's …a trap."
The older hunter tried to lift one of his arms, but only managed a small flailing movement. "I had… to keep my blocks up. The bastard wanted in my head."
That explained why Mac couldn't get a reading on Caleb. Dean kept a firm grip on his friend and turned towards the passageway in which they had come. "Sammy."
"Sammy?" Caleb struggled again. "Tell me…he's not here?"
Dean met his gaze. "He's keeping watch…in the first cavern."
"It'll sense him like it did me…"
Before Dean could act on the new revelation his radio crackled to life, Sam's quiet voice echoed around them. "Athewm, bogey in the area. Over."
Caleb met his worried gaze. "Go!"
Dean didn't have a chance to move. The Wendigo was upon them, loping through the entranceway of the cavern with the speed of a cheetah, long arms and claws extended. Dean quickly stood and stepped in front of Caleb. He pulled the gun from the back of his jeans, raised it to fire.
Ian had the same thought, moving into Dean's line of sight, hefting his gun in one fluid motion. "Eat this you sick fuck!" Hastings fired six consecutive rounds, the gunfire echoing like small explosions in the cave.
The creature barely stumbled with the impact, lifting his head and roaring in anger. It kept coming, although slower.
"I thought you said consecrated iron would work," Joshua shouted.
"I said it would slow it down," Dean yelled back. "Hastings! Drop!"
Ian ducked and Dean fired his weapon into the creature. It snarled and howled like a wounded animal but barely missed a step as it continued towards them.
"Deuce…get the hell out of here!" Caleb made it to his knees. "The tunnel…keeps going. I think it opens up to the outside again."
The Wendigo kept coming- golden yellow eyes locked on Dean.
It suddenly stopped and screamed.
The creature whirled around, away from Dean. There was an arrow protruding from its back. Dean moved his eyes from the Wendigo to its attacker-its new intended target.
The thirteen-year-old was holding the bow, trying to reload another silver-tipped arrow. Dean took off for his brother, knowing he'd never reach him in time. He had just gotten Caleb back. He refused to lose Sam.
The Wendigo turned on Sam, screaming again. It was at least eight feet tall, hideous as the drawings Julian Smith had done in his journal.
Sam raised the bow, arrow in place, but never got the shot off. Not only was the creature huge, it was unbelievably quick and agile. It used one large claw-like hand to deliver a glancing blow.
Sam lost the grip on his weapon as he was sent reeling into the cave wall. A hot knife-like pain lanced through his arm, a sickening crack accompanying it as the teen's right side took the brunt of the impact. Sam cried out as his head connected with granite, black spots exploded before him.
He blinked, knowing he had to orient himself if he was going to survive. The Wendigo was on him, it's putrid breath stifling, stealing his breath. "Get off!"
Sam struggled, fought wildly as claws dug painfully at him. The creature opened its mouth wider. . Before any yellowed teeth could reach him, the Wendigo roared and straightened. Its long arms flailing about as if it were trying to scratch a spot it couldn't reach.
"Get the hell away from my brother, you sonofabitch!"
"Dean." Sam stated. The monster stood, roaring again.
Dean lunged, his blade piercing its chest. Instead of attacking the older Winchester, the Wendigo seemed to deflate. The howl sounded more pain-induced, wounded-animal like than fury driven. It gave Sam one last look. A painful pressure resounded in the teen's head before it loped off the way it had came.
"Sammy." Dean knelt next to his brother. "Are you okay? Are you alright?"
Sam felt the older boy's hands on him, his green eyes searching Sam's with such concern. Sam took a shaky, ragged breath. "Dean…"
"Yeah. Take it easy. Keep breathing."
"Okay." That sounded like a good idea. Sam started to shake. "Where did it go?"
Dean probed at the gash on Sam's head, his face hardening. "Back to hell, I hope."
"I doubt if we'll be that lucky." Joshua suddenly appeared next to Dean. He was holding his gun. "If we're lucky the iron and silver might buy us a short reprieve."
Dean ignored Sawyer, continuing to check his brother. "What the hell were you thinking, Sam?"
Sam took another breath, this one coming easier. "That you guys were going to be dinner."
"Where are you hurt?" Dean frowned.
"My arm." Sam held it protectively against his side as his brother reached for it. He licked his lips anxiously. "I think it's broken."
"Great," Dean growled. Sam grimaced under his brother's gentle touch, but didn't reply. "You're lucky Mr. Meat and Potatoes didn't snap you like the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone."
"Deuce?" Caleb called out weakly. "He… okay?"
"Caleb?" Sam straightened, reaching his good hand out for his brother to help him stand. "He's okay?"
"He's alive." Dean looked back into the darkness before pulling the younger boy up from the ground. "For now."
"I told you." Dean couldn't believe Sam was grinning smugly despite their precarious situation. "We just needed some faith."
Dean took hold of Sam's good arm to help him over to where Caleb's position. "And I told you no heroics, to stay put. You just need some brains and a new set of ears."
"I knew you weren't dead!" Sam told Caleb as they neared the other hunter.
"Good for you, Runt."
"You were tracking a Wendigo, not a werewolf." The teen explained to the psychic as he kneeled beside him on the ground. "They like live prey."
"You don't say." Caleb smiled weakly. "Where were you three days ago, Sherlock?"
"And where the hell were you when that thing killed my brother, Reaves?"
Caleb, Dean and Sam all turned to look at Hastings. He was standing above them, fists clenched. Dean could understand the man's grief; but he didn't like the accusatory tone of his voice or the anger directed at Caleb.
"Where the hell do you think he was?" Dean demanded. He gestured to the nasty rope burns and abrasions on Caleb's wrists. "Hanging out enjoying the scenery?"
Ian shook his head. "He's still breathing."
"I tried to hold it off telepathically. It knew what I was doing."
"So why didn't it rip a chunk out of you?" Ian spat. "Does demon taste that fucking bad?"
"Shut up!" Dean stepped nose to nose with Hastings. "Before I arrange a reunion with good old Rick."
Ian shoved the younger man. "Go for it, Winchester. I've been waiting for a time to fix your smart mouth."
Caleb leaned on Sam and made it to his feet. "Try it, Ian and when I can move again I'll end you. Ring or no ring."
"This is all very exciting," Joshua interrupted. "But in case all the raging testosterone has clouded your memory, we're in the lair of a very pissed off cannibalistic killer without any useful weapons to defend ourselves. I really doubt if the biting sarcasm and dire threats will have much effect."
"He's right." Sam agreed. Dean shot his brother an annoyed glare. "The silver won't keep it away for long and it won't give us a chance to react when it attacks again."
"There's a back exit." Caleb jutted his chin towards a barely visible hole in the wall. "I've seen it go out that way."
Dean watched Ian look towards the passageway. He was weighing his options. "Then let's go."
"We'll have to carry the girl," Dean said. He wasn't leaving a snack for the Wendigo.
"And Rick." Ian bucked up. "We're not leaving him."
"He's deadweight," Dean pointed out. He wasn't trying to be malicious. The Brotherhood left no man behind, but they needed to get out alive, take care of the wounded, then return with reinforcements to claim the fallen. "We need to move."
"They'll slow us up." Ian gestured to the girl who had not regained consciousness. "She's not going to last much longer. And Reaves…"
Dean was beginning to get the picture Ian was just as upset about finding Caleb alive as he was about finding Rick dead. "Your mouth is holding us up, Hastings."
Dean recognized the tone in Caleb's voice. It was the one he took on before he was about to do something completely selfless and stupid. He turned to glare at the other hunter, barely staying vertical with Sam's help. "Don't even think it."
"You can give me a gun…I can hold it off until you and Sammy get clear."
"No way." Dean shook his head. "We're not leaving you to face that thing."
"He's right," Ian agreed. Hastings pulled his gun from his shoulder holster, then aimed at Caleb.
Dean's hand twitched reflexively, thoughts of pulling his own weapon leapt to his mind. He took a step back instead, glared at Ian. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Getting out of here alive. He's only going to hold us back."
"So you're what? Going to put him down?"
"You want to leave him alive for that thing to finish him off, like it did Rick?"
Dean felt Sam move to his side. "You're not killing him!"
Ian released the safety. "Get out of the way."
"Dean…Sammy…do as he says."
"No!" Dean snapped. This was not happening. "If we need to, we can stand our ground here."
"We'll die here is what we'll do and I for one…"
Ian's words came to an abrupt end as he suddenly crumpled in front of Sam and Dean. Joshua was standing behind him, holding what looked to be a large femur bone. "Turn about is fair play."
Dean snorted. Sawyer was a fucking enigma. He never knew which way the man was going to swing. "Way to go, Josh."
"It's Joshua, and I didn't do it for you." Sawyer dropped the leg bone, dusted his hands disdainfully. "I prefer not to become a meal for that creature."
"I've always liked you best." Caleb spoke up. "Lesser of three evils and all."
"I appreciate that." Sawyer rolled his eyes. "I can't really say the same for you."
"Maybe I've misjudged you," Dean said as he bent to retrieve Ian's gun.
"Perhaps you just feel guilty about my assault and kidnapping?"
Dean patted Ian's pockets until he found what he was looking for. He glanced up at Joshua as he found the duct tape. He cut a piece of the adhesive, binding Ian's hands and mouth. Dean grinned. "No. It's definitely not that."
Joshua exhaled heavily. "Despite my residual anger over your tactics, I happen to agree with you about holding our ground here. I have an idea."
"It better be a good one." Caleb brought a hand to his head. "That thing's recovering. I can sense it."
Joshua moved towards Sam. "Where's my grandfather's journal?"
Sawyer moved to the bag in question and retrieved the journal. "Maxim was not above using my grandmother's talents in his work."
Dean watched him flip through the pages. "Your grandma a witch like your mother?"
"Jocelyn is an incredibly talented crafter. She's saved many a hunter's life, whether they knew it or not."
"You think magic can stop a Wendigo?"
Sam answered his brother's question. "Part of the Wendigo's transformation is often accredited to dark sorcery."
"I've read Maxim's journal cover to cover. It seems I recall…" Joshua paused. "Here it is."
"What?" Dean moved to Sawyer's side.
"Symbols of power." Joshua pointed to the pictures scrawled in Maxim Madrigal's hand. "I can use them to create a circle of protection. The Wendigo won't cross it."
"And you think that will work?" Dean was skeptical. "Did you see that thing?"
Joshua smirked. "As long as everyone stays inside the circle, we should be fine."
Dean ignored the jab about his venturing out of the last safe haven Joshua had created during the hunt for the Black Dog over seven years ago. He met Caleb's gaze. "What do you think?"
"I think it's our only chance."
Dean sighed. "Merry Christmas to us."
"Mac?" John stepped beside his friend who had paused on the trail. The doctor had his eyes closed, his fingers wrapped tightly around Dean's Red Sox hat.
Mackland opened his eyes. "We're close." He glanced over his shoulder to where Bobby, Harland and Jim were waiting. "I don't think it's the first cave we marked. I sense they're further west."
John ran a hand over his beard, silently cursing the growing darkness. They had narrowed their search, using the Wendigo's propensity for cave-like dwellings. Sam and Dean most likely had done the same thing. "Are you sure? We'll lose time if we have to backtrack." He trusted Mac, however, these were his sons' lives.
Ames tightened his grip on the hat. "Damn it, Johnathan. You know this isn't rocket science. I'm only telling you what I feel to be true."
"We could split up now," Bobby offered. He cut his eyes to The Guardian. "Harland and Mackland could check the first cave out. John and I can go on to the second one."
"I think that sounds prudent," Jim concurred. "I'll go with Mackland and Harland. We'll keep in radio contact."
John nodded, watched as Mackland hesitantly followed after Sawyer and The Guardian. He turned to Bobby once they were out of earshot. "Mac's rarely wrong."
Singer nodded grimly. "That's what I'm counting on."
John swallowed. Bobby was afraid they'd still be too late to find Caleb alive. "The boys might have gotten to him in time."
Singer slapped his friend on the shoulder as he passed him to move westward. "I'd put my money on a Winchester any day of the week."
"How you doing, Runt?" Caleb asked quietly. He and Sam had been remanded to watching over an unconscious Ian and the nameless hiker while Dean helped Joshua quickly draw the symbols on the ground.
Reaves frowned when Sam's eyes filled. "Are you sure? Is it your arm?" The shock had probably worn off, letting the pain of the injury make itself known. Caleb felt more than a little helpless to do anything, his own body betraying him.
Caleb did manage to carefully reach out a hand to check Sam's injury, but the kid latched onto him with his good hand instead. "My arm's okay."
The older hunter felt the boy's fingers tighten around his swollen wrist. He resisted the initial urge to joke his way out of the uncomfortable situation. "Sammy?"
"Dad said you were dead." The kid kept his voice low, yet, the urgency came through loud and clear. "We came home from school…and I thought he'd been drinking; but he hadn't. He'd been crying. And then he told Dean…and Dean…" Sam's voice broke. He looked towards his brother, who was unaware of the scrutiny.
Caleb swallowed the lump that sprung to his throat. "Dean what?"
Sam's eyes found his once more. Caleb felt a surge of pain. "Dean wasn't Dean anymore."
Caleb was pretty sure what kind of state Dean would have been in. He'd seen first hand how the seventeen-year-old handled loss. "I'm sorry, kiddo. If I could have…"
Sam shook his head. "I knew you wouldn't do that to him. That's how I knew you were alive."
Caleb almost expected Sam to spout something about Belac being Athewm's protector. Sometimes he missed the little boy who believed in dragons and magic. But Sam was changing, growing up and there wasn't anything anyone could do to change that. "I'm glad you stuck to your guns." He forced a smile. "I like our Dean just the way he is."
Sam squeezed his hand once more, then released it. "Me too."
Caleb felt a hot stabbing sensation lance through his already aching head. He nearly doubled over at the onslaught. He cried out. Sam's worried voice faded as he fought to stay conscious.
"Dean!" Sam shouted for his brother as Caleb suddenly clasped his hands to his head and yelped in pain.
Dean leapt over Ian's sprawled form to their side in a second. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Sam started. "We were talking and…"
Caleb lifted his head at Dean's touch. "The sonofabitch's coming back," Caleb said. "And it's pissed."
"I'm hurrying!" Sawyer retorted as he finished the last symbol. He muttered a few words under his breath. "I hope that's the right incantation."
"And if it isn't…" Dean pulled his weapon.
"Then none of us will have that dreadful worry of returning any Christmas gifts."
Dean and Joshua kept their backs to the injured hunters, protecting them, their weapons drawn. The Wendigo showed no stealth as it entered, roaring, stomping its hulking frame towards them. Dean grimaced, wanted to step back, not trusting the symbols would hold the Wendigo back.
It charged at them. Joshua and Dean fired, but didn't have to, the protection circle flared, causing the Wendigo to shirk back, wounded.
"I hate return lines," Joshua commented with a smile.
Dean was relieved the symbols were working. He didn't want to ask the obvious question, his brother did.
"How long will it hold?"
Dean turned to look at his brother, then Joshua, then back to the Wendigo, who was making another attempt to traverse the circle. Beyond that he saw movement. "Until help arrives."
John and Bobby came in at a run when they heard the roaring of the Wendigo from the outside of the cave. It sounded angry.
"Get away from them you sonofabitch!" John yelled, flare gun at the ready as soon as they entered the cave. He had been prepared this time for a Wendigo, not a werewolf.
The Wendigo turned, momentarily giving up its attack on the boys. John took the opportunity and fired, shooting the Wendigo in its chest.
It stopped, glowed a brilliant yellow before going up in a flame. John and Bobby stepped back from the searing heat, the boys did the same. Then it disintegrated into a scattered pile of ash.
"Way to go, Dad!" Dean whooped.
"Nice shot, Johnny." John heard a weaker, familiar voice say. John glanced to Caleb and then over his shoulder to Bobby, giving the other hunter a relieved smile. Singer picked up the radio, gesturing he would call the others with the good news.
John stepped across the circle, squeezing Dean's shoulder first before crouching down to Caleb and Sam. "That's why I have the stripes, private." They were safe.
He looked around the cave, noticing a tied up Ian, then Rick. He gave the fallen hunter a solemn nod, recognizing his sacrifice. "Damn if this ain't a mess, boys."
"Caleb's alive, Dad."
Winchester cut his eyes to his youngest son, shaking his head. "I can see that, Sam." He offered Caleb his hand. The kid grasped it. John hauled him to his feet. "You okay?"
"Better than Rick." Caleb glanced towards Hasting's body. "The Wendigo…"
John shut him up by pulling him into a hard embrace. "You give us a scare like that again, Junior, and I'll have you on shit recon jobs the next year or two."
John drew back, holding Caleb at arms length. "You understand?"
Caleb nodded. "Yeah. I'm sorry I worried you all."
"I'm the one who's sorry." Bobby appeared behind John, roughly hugging the kid. "And I'm damn glad you're okay." Singer tucked the thermal blanket around Caleb's shoulders. "Your daddy should be here any minute." He glanced to John. "Mac knew the boys weren't in that other cave."
As if prompted by Bobby, Mackland rushed in. "Caleb! Thank God!" John pulled Bobby back, giving Macklanc access to his son. Mackland put both hands on the sides of his son's face. "Are you hurt?"
"I'm…okay, Dad," Caleb replied shakily. "Just a little cold."
"He's mildly hypothermic, dehydrated, and has a fever due to an infection from the septic wound on his leg."
"He didn't ask for your diagnosis, Doctor Sawyer," Dean snapped.
Dean had helped Sam up. His sons were standing next to each other, close to Caleb. John shook his head, smiling at their willfulness and determination. It was something he had ingrained in them. They had not given up on Caleb. He hoped that they would never give up on each other and righting the wrongs that had been done to their family..
"Let's go home, my boys," Jim said from the opening of the cave, wiping his eyes.
It sounded like a good idea to John, the best one he had heard in a long while.
Morning found Joshua ready to be away from Jim's farm. His mother had already gone when he woke, which he found odd considering she had waited for Mackland's return. Joshua had come with Harland and Ian on the original hunt. But, Mackland wanted to check on Hastings's head wound. Joshua got the impression the physician was merely acting on his Hippocratic Oath and not genuine concern for the hunter's welfare. He couldn't actually fault him. Ian had wanted to kill Caleb.
Joshua poured hot water into the mixture of herbs he had gathered, then stirred them. He wasn't exactly working from the goodness of his heart either. The tea would have Ian back to his obnoxious self faster than any modern medical intervention. Then they could leave Sunnybrook Farm. He had already drank a cup for his headache, which was gone within twenty minutes.
He made his way to the living room where Ian was brooding in front of the fire, sitting the tea on the coffee table. "Here. This will help your head."
Ian ignored the cup, continuing to stare into the dancing flames. "That's twice you've kept me from killing that sonofabitch Reaves, Sawyer."
Joshua raised a brow. "Look it as twice I've saved your life."
Ian looked at the tea, wrinkling his nose. "I'm not afraid of John Winchester."
Joshua crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe I hit you too hard."
"You didn't see him shedding any tears over my brother did you?" Ian avoided looking directly at Joshua.
Joshua had some sympathy for Ian. He had lost a brother, but Ian had never expressed closeness to Rick. Joshua reached out to pat Ian's shoulder, then thought better of it. "It's not the Knight's way to…"
"Don't give me that Knight shit." Ian glanced up, the flames in the fireplace reflected in his eyes. "He got his golden squire back. That's all he cared about."
"Pastor Jim…" Joshua mentioned. The Guardian had provided some words of comfort.
"Jim what?" Ian leaned forward. "The Guardian said a few words over his corpse. I'm sure Rick would be real grateful."
Joshua ran a hand through his hair. "What did you expect him to do, Ian?"
"I have no expectations."
"I have priorities," Ian retorted in a low voice.
"Be careful those priorities don't find you joining your brother." Joshua retorted, not liking the venom in Ian's tone.
"Is that a threat?" Ian laughed. "Coming from you?"
"No." Joshua picked up the untouched cup of tea, no longer feeling charitable or impatient for a long road trip with Hastings and his father. It's merely friendly advice. I know these men. Better than you."
"I know enough. I know if that had been you or me out there with Rick and not Reaves…the Wendigo would be having one hell of a Christmas dinner right now."
Joshua was nothing if not a realist. They were the foot soldiers in The Brotherhood. It made Joshua extra careful on his hunts to be aware of self-protection. "I have no doubt you're right."
Surprise seemed to flash on Ian's face. He shook his head. "Then you better learn who your real friends are."
"Like Griffin Porter?" Esme disliked Griffin, warned her son about him numerous times. Harland, on the other hand, was good friends with the man. Perhaps it was part of the reason Griffin was always courteous to Joshua, even going out of his way to compliment him on his talents, ask about his training with Buzz and Missouri. But, more and more, Joshua saw his mother as having clarity on the situation. Porter could not be trusted.
"He rewards loyalty and understands priorities."
"As long as those priorities are in line with his own aspirations?" Joshua knew of Griffin's desire for power.
Ian smiled. "Better than what's going on around here. I'm no one's lackey." Ian snorted. "Look at you, making tea, helping, for what? You don't exist, just like Rick." Ian shook his head again. "Wise up."
Joshua gripped the tea cup, the saucer rattled slightly in his hand. "I'll tell my father that you're ready to go. I am sure that you'll want to spend some time with your family at a time like this."
"He still asleep?"
Sam's unexpected voice brought Dean's head up as he quietly exited Caleb's room and entered the one he shared with his brother.
"Yeah. Mac's in with him. I thought I'd see if there was any apple pie left, give him some time." Dean glanced to the room again. He hadn't ever seen Mac quite so shaken.
"There's fruit cake," Sam said, interrupting his thoughts. "Mrs. Simpson made it."
Dean pantomimed gagging. "You want me to make a trip to the clinic too? We've met the one Winchester quota today."
"It wasn't that bad." Sam rubbed his newly casted arm.
"So the super brain is safe." Dean messed his brother's hair. Sam ducked away with an annoyed glare.
"I'm okay. Doctor McCoy set my arm herself."
Dean sat beside his brother on the bed. "And did the lovely Liz give you a present? A lollipop for being a good boy?"
"No." Sam frowned, elbowing his brother for the 'little kid' reference. "But she brought Dad some coffee and fudge. Bobby made kissing noises."
Dean rolled his eyes, rubbing his ribs. "And he says me and Caleb need to grow up."
"You aren't exactly on the mature side."
"And you are?"
"Years ahead of you two."
Dean studied Sam for a moment. "You're pretty damn smart, but that doesn't mean you're agrown up." He hadn't forgotten Sam's heroics in the cave. "I'm still the oldest and on a hunt, I'm in charge. Got it?"
"I couldn't stay out of the hunt, not when you were in danger. I watch your back. Right?"
"Yeah," Dean conceded. "And I appreciate it. I also appreciate what you did…all the research, convincing me to look for Caleb."
"He's family. You're always telling me it's the most important thing we Winchesters have."
"Best gift ever."
Sam grinned. "Speaking of gifts, Dad and Jim are taking me and Scout to get the Christmas tree."
"You're going to work the injury angle aren't you?"
"You taught me well." Sam smiled. "Want to come?"
Dean cut his gaze to Caleb's door once more. "I better stick around here. Make sure Damien stays out of trouble."
"I don't think Mac's going to let him out of his sight for a while."
"Probably not, but you know he'll be chomping at the bit after Mac's mother hen routine. He'll need another rescue."
Sam nodded. "He's hugged me like a hundred times. I think Esme might have drugged his tea."
"Look at it this way, Sammy." Dean bobbed his eyebrows. "What better time to be the favorite nephews of a millionaire than at Christmas."
Sam's smile widened. "This is so going to be the best Christmas ever."
Caleb opened his eyes, glancing around the room. He was at Jim's, in his own bed. From the soft light flooding through the window, falling across the wooden floors, he guessed it was almost mid-morning. He hadn't remembered much of the trip home. The pain he'd been in from hanging suspended by his wrists for days had overruled his father's concerns about head wounds and hypothermia. Mac had given Caleb some blessed drugs. The lightheaded floaty feeling and absence of the burning ache in his shoulders and back told him Mackland was still being generous with the pain killers.
He decided to risk moving, rolling over on his side. A dull throb pounded across his upper body, but it was tolerable. Caleb couldn't suppress the quick inhale of breath as his ribs protested his attempt to sit up.
"Hey." the soft voice was accompanied by a light touch on his arm.
He was hoping not to wake Dean. Despite the uncomfortable position the teen had been sleeping in, Caleb knew he was at least getting some much needed rest.
Dean straightened in the chair by Caleb's bed. "What are you doing?"
"Prepping for the New York Marathon," Caleb replied with a grimace. "What the hell does it look like I'm doing?"
Dean rolled his eyes, stood and helped his friend sit up by stuffing some pillows behind him. "You're as bad as Dad when you're hurt."
Caleb raised a challenging brow. "And you're a model patient?"
Dean reclaimed his seat and stretched. "I have my moments."
Caleb rested his arm over his mid-section, trying to breathe carefully. "Yeah. I suppose you do."
The seventeen-year-old looked at him. "How're the shoulders and leg?"
"Blissfully numb again." Caleb grinned. "Dad must have slipped me the good stuff."
"I doubt he'd deny you anything at the moment."
Caleb licked his lips. "So now's the perfect time to ask for that chalet in the Alps. Think of the fun we could have with the slopes and snow bunnies next Christmas."
Some of the worry lines disappeared from Dean's face, which had been Caleb's intention all along. "Or you could just ask for that Ferrari from Miami Vice you always wanted."
Caleb frowned. "Dude, I have a car."
Dean snorted. "That's like saying Bobby has a girlfriend."
"I'm going to tell him you insulted Fiona." Caleb shifted on the bed, wincing. "He'll have you pulling shitty recon jobs."
The worry lines were back. Dean leaned closer. "You sure you're okay, man?"
"I'm breathing." Caleb met his gaze, deciding a change in subject was needed. "How's Sammy?"
"Broken arm, bump on the head. Dr. McCoy casted him." Dean bobbed his eyebrows. "Nice and white."
Caleb perked up. "Perfect for some Christmas decorating. I can draw some graphic elf pictures. You can pen some raunchy verse."
"I thought so," Dean replied. "But right now he's working the injury angle as we speak. He and Pastor Jim dragged Dad out to the church to pick out the Christmas tree. I'm betting Sam comes back with the biggest one in the church yard."
"Not to mention the presents he's going to score." Caleb sighed. "Hey," he said as an idea suddenly struck him. "I should rack up, too. Near death has to increase the present quota."
Dean laughed. "You really think so?"
Caleb nodded. "Maybe this year separate Christmas and birthday gifts." He didn't really care about material gifts, but if it lightened Dean's mood he'd work that angle. "And I'm so getting the entire butterscotch pie this time."
"Dad may fight you on that one. It's his favorite, too."
"Have you looked at my face?" Caleb gestured to the discoloration maligning his features. "And did you see the way Johnny wasted that Wendigo bastard? Please. I have him right where I want him." Caleb would be lucky to get one piece of pie and avoid extra maneuvers after his recuperation for getting caught by the Wendigo.
Dean's smirk told him the younger man was thinking the same thing. "Right and Bobby's going to plant a big wet one on Harland under the mistletoe."
"I know about these things. Trust me."
"You're not always right, Damien." Dean's eyes narrowed. "You were wrong about the Santa thing all those years ago, Dude. Sometimes people do come back."
Caleb gave him a puzzled look, not quite sure what the younger man was thinking. "I didn't see any fat guy in a red suit using a sleigh to drag my ass out of that cave. That was all you, Deuce…and your elf Sammy. And if I haven't made some kind of drug-induced girly scene out of it already; I really appreciate it. You guys saved my life."
"Nothing you wouldn't have done for me."
"True." Caleb admitted. He would easily sacrifice his life for Dean or Sam. But it didn't make the idea of leaving them behind any easier. That kind of hurt was the last thing he wanted to impart.
"I have something for you."
"A present already?" Caleb grinned, thankful for the reprieve. "Maybe I should get injured more often at the holidays."
Dean snorted. "Don't tempt fate. We have enough problems." Caleb watched him dig in his jacket pocket. To Caleb's surprise he pulled out his watch. "I was going to save it for your birthday but…"
Caleb took the watch with a laugh. He'd lost it when the Wendigo was dragging him and Rick through the forest. "You Winchesters are notorious re-gifters." He ran his fingers over the shiny metal, then glanced up at Dean. "Thanks, man. Cullen gave it to me."
Dean nodded. "I know. Family's important."
Caleb watched Dean squirm slightly. "We know how easy it can be gone."
The psychic put down the watch and sighed. Maybe they needed to have a serious talk after all. "Look, Deuce…I'm sorry as hell this all happened. The way it happened. Sammy told me a little bit. It must have been hard being here and thinking I'd run out on you guys."
Dean swallowed. "I didn't want to believe it."
"I can imagine…if the situation was reversed." Caleb shook his head. "Let's not go there."
"If Sammy hadn't…"
"But he did and I'm fine." Caleb waited for Dean to look at him again. "But if the worst ever happens, I want you to stay on the straight and narrow. Understand me?"
"Like you said the worst didn't happen and…"
"And I trust you to carry on the fight if it did. Send me off with one hell of a party. Have some shots, grab a couple of girls, you know."
Dean snorted. "Those are your final wishes?"
Dean held his gaze. He was afraid he had said too much when Dean's mouth suddenly twitched. "Do I get your apartment?"
Caleb grinned. "Yes. And Tricorp. It's all yours."
Dean glanced down at The Three Musketeers book in his hand, the heaviness of it sucking away the momentary levity. He'd been reading it to Caleb earlier before the fever broke, before he would buy completely into Mac's promise that Caleb was going to be fine. He lifted his gaze to his best friend once more. "Can I ask you something?"
Caleb nodded. "Anything."
Dean pulled the two of spades from the pages of the book, holding it up. "Why do you call me Deuce?"
The seventeen-year-old watched the older hunter shift uncomfortably on the mattress. "That's not exactly a bedtime story."
"Never stopped you before," Dean recalled that Christmas Eve many years ago when Caleb had told Dean about his parent's death.
"It's not important, Deuce."
"It is to me." Dean didn't want things left unsaid between them. "Consider it an early Christmas present."
"I lived. That's should be present enough. In fact, I shouldn't have to buy you anything for your birthday either."
Dean considered it. "Nope. Not feeling it."
The teen waggled the card. "It's the lowest card in the deck, man. I'm supposed to be your best friend."
Caleb smirked. "Who told you that nasty rumor?"
Dean brushed his hand against Caleb's arm. When Caleb exhaled heavily Dean knew he had won out. Caleb took the card from Dean with a roll of his eyes. "My Dad gave me this card…a few nights before…well you know."
"Why that card?" Dean pushed and sensed the moment the walls went back up.
Caleb shrugged. "Look, man, I'm really tired."
Dean frowned. "You're changing the subject."
"Can't we just say it's important to me and leave it at that?" Caleb handed the card back to Dean. "I promise to tell you some day. But cut me some slack right now. You can count it as my early birthday present."
Dean traced his finger over the edges of the playing card. "When I thought you were dead…I…well…" He met Caleb's gaze, silently reminded himself of the importance of saying the things that needed to be said even if Caleb wasn't willing to play along. "Let's just say that you're important to me too. .."
Caleb grinned. "I'm still not giving you any of my presents, Deuce."
Dean snorted, rolled his eyes. "All these years and you still have no idea how to share, Damien."
"Now can I ask you a question?"
Caleb frowned. "Did Bobby actually hug me or was that some fever induced delirium."
"Yeah. He did." Dean laughed. "It was a beautiful thing. There might have even been a tear shed."
Caleb's mouth twitched. "I guess Pastor Jim is right. This is the season of miracles."
"Sometimes it is," Dean agreed. They would be under one roof for Christmas, maybe into the New Year. Family was the most important gift. "But I'm still holding you to the birthday celebration. Eighteen is a big deal."
"Are you kidding?" Caleb snorted. "I came back from the dead just for that party."
Dean groaned. "It's good to know you have your priorities straight, Machiavelli."
"Always." Caleb raised a brow. "So, I was thinking we could hit this sweet little border town and then…"
Dean listened to Caleb's voice as he listed the possibilities for their great adventure. Dad would probably quash any extravagant outing and Sam would beg to come along until he or Caleb probably caved, definitely changing the rating of the fun they could have. But nothing at the moment could damper Dean's spirit. As far as his world was concerned, all was well.
A/N: I would have loved to do a scene with Mac and Caleb, as well as a longer scene with John and Caleb; but there was only so much time and I truly need to return to To the Victor. I hope what I did manage was enough of a pay off. Again, have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year to everyone.