The Edge of Winter

Beta: Tidia

A/N: See Ending. I didn't want to keep you waiting any longer. ;-)


"Forgiveness will not change the past; but it will bring hope to the future."

New Mexico

November 2002

It was either great restraint or great stupidity on Caleb's part that he didn't read Sam's mind to find out why he was so nervous and what was in the small grocery bag he dropped in the seat between him and Caleb. Later he would blame it on the many other distractions he tried to keep his mind focused on as they waited hours until the orthopedic surgeon fresh from surgery came to talk to them.

"How is he?" Sam asked.

The doctor gave a weary smile as he slid the surgery cap from his head, smoothing a hand over his scrubs. "As well as can be expected. I'm a little wary of his allergy to penicillin, but I'm sure we can find an antibiotic therapy that will speed his recovery. He's young, and in excellent shape. With the proper rest and rehabilitation I have every reason to believe he will make a complete recovery."

"That's great," Caleb said, releasing the breath he'd been holding.

Sam shook the surgeon's hand. "Thank you."

"He's in recovery now, but he should be in his room soon. If you check with the nurse she can tell you what floor. You're welcome to wait for him there." The doctor paused. "Tell your father I'll have my notes written up when he arrives. He also requested Dean's scans. I'll have those also."

"He'll appreciate that."

"Mac's coming?" Sam asked once they were alone.

"Yeah." Caleb ran a hand over his mouth. "His flight arrives at noon."

"Speaking of flights…" Sam glanced at his watch. "The ticket you got me…"

Caleb frowned. "Is open. You can fly back whenever they have availability. It won't be a problem." Caleb slapped his arm. "I'm going to hit the nurse up for Deuce's information. Hopefully we can use Dad's pull to score a private room."

"You go on ahead; I need to make a quick call."

Caleb put his hands on his hips, an unnerving fear of letting Sam out of his sight taking hold. When he returned from the nurse's station, Sam was waiting for him in the orange chairs.

"You ready?" Caleb gestured for Sam to stand. "Deuce is on the third floor."

"Caleb?" Sam shirked back into the chair.

"The Doc said we can go to Dean's room." Caleb dropped his hand, nagging fear gaining more ground.

"I'm not going."

"What?" Caleb returned to Sam's side.

Sam rubbed his legs, avoiding Caleb's glare. "You were right. I can't change who he is anymore than Dad can change what happened to Mom all those years ago. His world is about hunting, and I no longer live in that world. There's no bridging the two."

"You're family. That can bridge any gap."

"Not this one. I have to have a clean break…I shouldn't have come."

Caleb hadn't seen this happening, at least not so quickly. He thought seeing Dean would change Sam's mind. "Sammy…"

"I'm sorry." Sam looked up.

Caleb shook his head in disappointment. Sam was taking the easier path, the one with the least resistance. Caleb wouldn't force him to stay, but would deal with the consequences. "Not as sorry as I am."

"Tell him…try to explain…" Sam took a deep breath, standing. "Just give him this." He thrust the paper bag at Caleb and was gone before Caleb could say anything more.

Caleb opened the package. Inside laid one of Celeste's dream catchers. He traced his finger around the soft leather. "So much for keeping away the bad stuff." With a mixture of trepidation and anticipation he made his way to Dean's room.

He didn't have to wait long before his friend was brought in. Despite the I.V. and monitors, Deuce looked better than before, some of his color having returned. Caleb watched him sleeping, hoping the younger hunter would have a few more hours of blessed ignorance. A part of him selfishly wanted Dean to wake up so he could be certain he was alright, but the coward in him cringed at the thought of having to answer the first question Dean would undoubtedly ask.

Caleb was so focused on rehearsing the explanations of where Sam was, and why he had to leave without saying goodbye that he almost missed the changes. Dean's breathing quickened. His hand closest to Caleb twitched, and a sudden sensation of pain and confusion pounded at Caleb's mind. He wrapped his fingers around the younger hunter's wrist and leaned closer.

"Deuce? Take it easy."

"Sammy?" Dean turned his head towards Caleb. The youngest Winchester's name exhaled on a breath.

"No, Kiddo. It's me." Caleb moved his hand from Dean's arm, resting it briefly on his hair. When the younger man finally managed to open his eyes and look at him there was disorientation clouding his green gaze. "You're in the hospital. Remember?"

Dean blinked, a frown wrinkling his brow. "Damien?"


"I fell?" Dean licked his lips, closing his eyes again.

"Off the side of a mountain. Yes."

Dean took a breath, letting it out slowly. He looked at Caleb. "Remind me not to do that again."

The psychic chuckled, sitting back in his chair. "We'll have your cape adjusted so you can fly."

"I'm okay?" Dean opened his eyes wider, glancing down to his leg.

Caleb leaned forward again as the younger man's panic hit him. "You're good, Deuce. I promise. "You've still got a bit of a fever, but your nurse said you'd be feeling better once the antibiotics kick in." Caleb thought it best to stick to the easy stuff. "Your surgery went well. The leg will be good once Mac ships you off to the farm and Jim corrals you straight through Christmas."

Dean relaxed, his gaze searching the small room. "Where's Sammy?"

Caleb controlled his flinch, running a hand over his mouth. "Sammy…"

"Did I dream that…I mean him?" The frown was back. "At the cave…he was there?"

For an instant Caleb entertained the idea of playing along with Dean's confusion, hoping the foggy memory would continue to stay just that. Sam's visit could remain a figment of Dean's over active subconscious. Illusions didn't hurt like the real thing. "No, Sammy was here, Dude. He helped me get you out of Truchas, here to the hospital. I couldn't have done it without him." Caleb was beginning to think he should have done it without him.

Dean struggled to sit up. "Is he okay? Was he hurt?"

"Take it easy." Caleb stood, placing a hand on the younger man's chest. " Sam's fine. He wasn't hurt." When Dean stopped struggling, Caleb took a seat on the edge of the hospital bed. "Sammy stayed until you were out of surgery, made sure you were okay. He wanted to wait until you woke up, but it was getting so late…"

Dean's frown deepened. "You said he would come back."

"Yeah, about that..."

"Sam came back…but now he's gone again?" Confusion still laced the words, but something in Dean's tone told Caleb that the scattered fragments were slowly aligning, pointing straight to the ugly truth.

He took a deep breath, preferring to watch his ring as he twisted it around his finger than to look at Dean. "He went back to Stanford. You know this is a really busy time at school, finals just around the corner. I remember what it was like. He risked that perfect 4.0 of his by coming with me. I'm sure…"

"He went back to California without saying goodbye?"

Caleb rubbed his neck, lifting his head to finally meet Dean's gaze. Sam trusted him to do this, or at least had forced him into it. "Yeah, man. He had to go."

Dean watched him for a moment and Caleb wasn't sure the news had completely sunk in through the anesthesia fog. He didn't want to explain again later. But then Dean carefully drew his arms up, crossing them over his chest. "He's not coming back…for Thanksgiving or for Christmas? Is he?"

Caleb didn't answer; instead he remembered the bag and quickly stood to get it. "I almost forgot. He asked me to give you this." He didn't wait for a response as he pulled the dream catcher from the package and held it out for Dean to inspect. "A Celeste Fair original. Sammy said you made him one once. He thought you'd get a kick out of it, and that it might just keep some of that shitty luck away."

Dean stared at the dream catcher, his eyes growing brighter. He made no effort to take the protection object, so Caleb hung it on the IV pole along with the saline drip. "I told him you being a Winchester he should have invested in one the size of a trampoline and with about a few hundred eagle feathers." Caleb propped his hands on his hips, forced a smile. "But you know Sam, eternal optimist."

"Yeah." Dean finally blinked, moisture clinging to his dark lashes. "I know Sam."

Caleb reclaimed his seat on the bed, facing his best friend. "Sam misses you like crazy, Deuce. He told me staying at Stanford without you is the hardest thing he's ever had to do. It's why he doesn't write or call…it makes it harder for him." Shit, now he was making excuses for the kid. This was all Caleb's fault; he should have never forced Sam to come with him.

"But he's okay?"

The question caught him off guard. "Dude, I just told you…"

"No." Dean shook his head. "You were there. You met his friends?"

"Yes. A few of them, but..."

"The girl…Jessica. She really likes him?"

Caleb sighed. "She totally has a thing for him. He's crazy about her, but is as clueless as ever."

Dean held his gaze, his voice taking on a breathy quality that caused Caleb's chest to tighten. "Is he happy there?"

Caleb hesitated, thinking back to the first night at Stanford to the moments before Sam and his friends had come into the dorm room, the positive energy he felt from the youngest Winchester and the dark anger that wasn't present.


For an instant he wanted to lie to his best friend, but found he couldn't do it even to stop the pain his answer would bring. "Yeah, Kiddo. He's happy there."

Dean nodded, looking down at his fingers. Caleb watched him clench and unclench his right fist. "Where's my ring?"

"I've got it." Caleb reached in his pocket, removing the envelope with Dean's belongs. He offered the younger man his things.

Dean took his silver hunting ring, sliding it on, before grabbing the leather bracelets. He rested back against the mattress. "Thanks."

Caleb was staring at the amulet still resting in his palm. Dean hadn't taken it. He'd never seen the kid without it since Sam had given it to him, recalled all too well the time when he'd been forced by Duran Hughes to remove it. It was as much a part of Dean as the hunter's ring, as the Impala.

"You still think he's coming back?"

Caleb swallowed thickly at the soft spoken question. He suddenly longed for the days when he naively believed there wasn't anything he couldn't protect Dean from if he worked hard enough, was the ever vigilant Knight John trained him to be. He met Dean's gaze, reached out and gripped his hand. "I think he'll always, ALWAYS, be your little brother." He turned Dean's palm face up and placed the leather cord and amulet in it. "In fact, I know it."

Dean blinked, his gaze losing the hard edge. He curled his fingers around the pendant. "You say that as if you're always right."

Caleb grinned. "I usually am." He closed his hand around Dean's, giving it a brief tight squeeze before standing. "Now why don't you get some more rest before Mackland shows up and chews me out for inhibiting your recovery?"

"But what about the hum?" Dean asked. "We promised to help Celeste."

Caleb smiled at the kid's quickly shifting gears. Like he told Sam, Dean was a hunter through and through. "Let me worry about that."

"And the car," Dean groaned. "Shit! I left the Impala in that crazy town. Dad's going to kill me."

"I called your hot bartender. She's going to make sure nothing happens to Johnny's baby until I can swing by to pick it up. It'll cost me out the ass, but I suppose it's the least I can do seeing as how this whole screwed up situation is my fault." It was said in jest, but it didn't make it any less true.

"Your fault?" Dean's frown was back. "This isn't your fault, Damien."

Caleb ignored him. "I was late…I didn't have my priorities straight. But I can promise you, I've got my thumb out of my ass now, man. It won't happen again. The job comes first." Dean would come first.

"Did something happen while I was holed up in that cave?"

Caleb shook his head. "Nothing we can't talk about later when you're more awake." He could tell Dean was losing the battle with the anesthesia, and was more than a little thankful for the save. "Get some rest."

Dean yawned, blinking. "You going to be here when I wake up?"

Caleb gave a tight nod. "I'm not going anywhere." He'd learned his lesson the hard way. He was where he belonged with his head in the game.


New Haven, Kentucky

November 2008

Sam leaned boneless against the wall outside the doorway of his and Dean's bedroom, listening to Caleb's deep voice as he read.

Dean had been unconscious for the last ten hours, including the arduous drive from Alabama to Kentucky. They'd been sitting with him in shifts, neither willing to stay away for long. Elijah reinforced his mind trick a few times, and was now sleeping in Dad's old room in case he was needed. Ethan called; Catherine Blake was more than willing to go along with the detective's story of his brilliant rescue. He would be at the farm soon, as would Mackland, who Carolyn finally tracked down the day before in Haiti. Sam imagined The Scholar was pursuing a way for Dean to avoid Hell. Everything was slowly righting itself, their world returning to as normal as it got for them except for Dean waking up and telling them all to get a fucking grip.

"Don't fight shy of adventures; I'd sooner you lived dangerously."

Sam closed his eyes letting the lines from the story stir long-forgotten memories. He had talked himself hoarse by his brother's bedside, recanting all the good times the farm held, even telling him every Stanford story. Then Caleb retrieved his copy of The Three Musketeers and read to Dean from the book they all knew by heart. He'd already been through it once, started again.

"I've taught you to handle a sword: you've got good strong legs and a wrist of steel."

Alexander Dumas's words seemed to comfort Caleb, and lull the dogs to sleep even if they didn't have the miraculous effect of bringing Dean back to them.

"Fight at the lest provocation, in season and out, because now that dueling is illegal the man who fights shows himself to be doubly brave."

"Sounds like something Dad would say." Sam moved slowly across the room, watching Caleb's face for any signs he took his early return as an intrusion. The older hunter looked exhausted, his eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, two days growth of beard helping to darken his countenance. Harper Lee and Boo, were both lying on Dean's bed. Boo lifted his head up, going as far to sit up, offering his Golden Retriever smile in greeting.

"Yeah." Caleb rested the book on his lap, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Your old man was all about fighting the good fight."

Sam stopped to give Boo's ears a good scratching. He let his hand rest on his brother's foot for a moment relishing in the warmth that assured life before continuing past the bed to the oak bookshelf in the corner beneath the lone window. The first hint of dawn was seeping through the thin blue curtains, casting a purplish glow on the neat row of figurines adorning the scarred top. The tiny dragons, troll doll and dog statues brought a wave of nostalgia. Sam ran his finger over the large black dragon with the gold-tipped scales and thoughts of his father rushed over him. He grabbed the white-winged horse that stood gracefully at the onyx beast's side, cradling it in his hand.

"I thought you were going to try and get some sleep?"

Sam turned at Caleb's voice, shrugging. They both had gone almost three days without rest. One more day wouldn't matter. Sam claimed the chair by Caleb, stretching out his long legs. "I'd rather stay in here." Sam traced over the silver wings of the statuette.

Caleb pointed to the small horse. "I think that was the last addition you made to the castle. You didn't play with the dragons much after the Conner thing."

Sam hadn't thought about his time with his grandfather in years. Despite how long it had been, the memory was easy to recall. "I think I felt the castle was complete after Hope came to live with Prince Samuel."

Caleb raised a brow. "Hope?"

Sam smiled, recalling the day he'd given the toy to his brother upon his return to the farm. Their grandfather, Charles Conner, had let Sam take it with him when he returned the boy to his family. Things had seemed so simple then. The good guys always won in the end, like with Caleb's book. "It belonged to Mom. Dean named it."

Caleb's gaze returned to Dean. "I used to think you put them away because you didn't believe in them anymore after we let Conner take you."

Sam was surprised at their different perspective. "You didn't let Conner take me. He had Dad over a barrel. And most importantly, you all rescued Dean from that sociopath. It all worked out in the end. If anything, I was more enthralled than ever with the dragons." Sam leaned forward to set the horse on the bedside table. "Even when I hated the idea of Prince Samuel being forever sequestered in the castle O' Nathan Jay built, I still loved the dragons. I never completely lost hope."

"I wish I could say the same about your brother." Caleb kept his eyes on Dean. "I think Deuce stopped believing in the dragons after Conner took you."

"Dean has always believed in his family. Jim would say that kind of faith has a magic all of its own."

Caleb snorted. "You believe that even now? After all that's happened with Jessica, your dad, Jim and now this?"

Sam gestured to the dream catcher hanging on the headboard of Dean's bed. He knew Caleb had hung it there, recognized it instantly as the one he'd bought for his brother in New Mexico. "What is that expression Dean loves so much? Pot meet Kettle? I thought dream catchers only worked if your dream was to be gay?"

Caleb looked up at the dream catcher with a shrug. "At this point, I'm willing to try anything to protect him. If nothing else, maybe I can spare him a few nightmares." He licked his lips, shot Sam a brief look.

Sam looked down in worry about the nightmares they were causing. It was hard to forget the wake of death and destruction they had left. "About what we did last night. . .those people."

"Were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Caleb said. "Rose placed them directly in the line of fire, not us."

Sam wanted to believe they weren't guilty, that what they did was just. He carried more guilt because he knew Caleb wasn't completely in the best of shape to be making rational decisions. Rose's words haunted him. "What if what she said about the amulet is true? It's too dangerous. We don't need that kind of magic."

"You didn't object when it was helping us get Dean back."

"Because it was a last resort. We have Dean now."

"What about the deal? What if we can't find any other way to keep Dean out of Hell? You really willing to toss out the ace up our sleeve?"

Sam had the same fear, which only solidified his belief they destroy the amulet. "Do you hear what you're saying? It's just like Rose pointed out. We'll be completely desperate if we don't find a way out for him." Sam cut his eyes to his sleeping brother despite their raised voices. "It might make what we did last night look like a harmless bar room fight." He was terrified of what they could become.

"Demons lie, Sam!"

"Demons twist the truth to suit their own purposes! She may have her own agenda, but what she said made a whole hell of a lot of sense. We don't even know what that thing was that you conjured, but it was powerful. I felt the way it took control of you and how it handled Rose. That thing's on the loose now. We're responsible for whatever damage it does. Do you really want to take a chance on doing something worse?"

"I just want to save Deuce from dying." Caleb threw his hands in the air in frustration, the book falling from his lap, skittering across the floor. Boo whined. Harper Lee snorted in his sleep. Dean stayed motionless and unaware. "Goddamnit! Is that too much to ask for?"

"And Dad just wanted to avenge Mom. Dean just wanted to bring me back. Some things are too much to ask for." Sam swallowed the bile at the back of his throat, blinking to remove the hot moisture from his eyes before tears could form. "You can't fix everything for him."

Caleb looked away. "You don't have to tell me that. If losing you to Conner didn't teach me that when I was a kid, watching you walk out of that hospital in New Mexico sure as hell did."

Sam felt the tenuous grip on his own temper slipping. "You're really bringing that up again? God, I'm so sick of having you throw that in my face!"

"I only brought it up to make a point, to…"

"To make me feel guilty about what happened in New Mexico?" Sam interrupted. "I was scared, Caleb. Scared of losing Dean to the hunt, and of losing myself and my plans to the 'voice of God'. I heard that stupid hum, and I ran from it too because it made me different. I just found a little freedom; I couldn't give it up again."

"You never said. . ."

Sam waved his hand to dismiss the concern. At the time he had wondered if he was being called to do something that he was not willing to do. So he pushed it down and away, and hadn't thought about it until Caleb kept bringing it up.

Caleb gave a nod. "What happened in New Mexico was my fault. I don't blame you."

"Do you know how arrogant that sounds? How in the hell could you possibly hold yourself responsible for Dean being hurt back then?" Caleb opened his mouth to reply, but Sam held up a hand to cut off his response. "And if you dare say it's your job to keep him safe, so help me God, I will bust you in the mouth." He was sick of illogical duty and obligations.

Caleb ran a hand over his mouth. "You don't understand."

"Why? Because I wasn't given some impossible lifelong directive by the late, great Corporal Winchester?"

"If he had issued you an order, you would have done the opposite just to spite him."

Sam ignored the jab. "No matter what Dad believed, you can't be in charge of another person's life. You can't be responsible for every decision they make."

"I'm not going to sit by and watch him get hurt."

"Then maybe you should just leave."

"What?" Caleb turned towards him. "Have you lost your fucking mind?"

"No." Sam shook his head. "I'm speaking from experience. Because if you haven't figured it out by now, nothing you can do will ever change Dean's innate ability to throw himself in the path of harm's way to save someone else, whether it be one of us or some stranger on the street." He matched Caleb's fierce gaze. "I thought it might change when I was out of the picture, or maybe once Dad was gone. But no. He's a true Guardian inside and out, a selfless bastard through and through. To not accept that, is to deny the greatest part of him. If you can't deal with that, then you should go for your own sake, and his."

If Caleb recognized the cannibalized and slightly amended speech he'd used on Sam in the hospital in New Mexico he didn't let on, instead he stood, gave Dean one last look and left the room.

"Shit," Sam groaned once he had gone. He ran both his hands through his hair before letting his head rest against his palms. Boo whined loudly, coming over to lick at his face. "Just when I thought it was impossible to make things worse, boy…"

He didn't have long to stew over his inability as of late to say anything the right way, as another voice demanded his attention.

"Sam, is everything alright?"

"Yeah. It's fine." Sam sat up as Elijah moved into the room, his face wary and concerned. "Did we wake you?"

Elijah smiled at the question. "These walls are like paper."

"Yeah," Sam gave the professor a sheepish look. "Dad always swore he was going to insulate them for Jim. Sorry."

Elijah took the seat Caleb had vacated and Boo abandoned Sam for the newcomer's attention. "I just wish it had the same effect on Dean." He gestured to the unconscious hunter. "We might as well have been whispering as far as he's concerned."

"Is he used to you and Caleb arguing?"

"We don't argue," Sam said.

Elijah gestured to the bruises on Sam's face. "I guess you don't fight either?"

Sam reached up to touch his cheek. The professor was more observant than he realized. "Not usually. This is just hard…you know."

Elijah nodded. "So, you two usually get along then?"

"Sure. I guess."

The professor rubbed a hand over Boo's head and down his rust-colored flank. "I guess you have a lot in common?"

Sam had to swallow another lump lodged in his throat before he could speak. "Not really. We have Dean."

Elijah looked at him. "What do you talk about when you're not discussing Dean?"

Sam opened his mouth to deliver an easy reply but stopped short when nothing instantly came to his mind. Of course there were things besides his brother that he and Caleb discussed. There had to be. "Hunting, I guess." That was something. "We talk about hunting," when they weren't yelling at each other about the past.

"I see."

Sam didn't like the knowing look that suddenly lit Eli's dark eyes. "It's not like Dad and Mackland had a whole lot of things in common either. And Dad wasn't even psychic. At least Caleb and I have the psychic thing. He tries to help me…at least he wants to. I don't' really want to be helped…I mean…"

Elijah rocked back in his chair. "Mackland said he and your father were close."

Sam appreciated the save. He was rambling like an idiot. Maybe Elijah understood how complicated it all was. "They were," Sam replied. He thought about all the times he'd spent with Mackland and Dad. "They were both pretty passionate about baseball, politics and blues. The blues was about the only thing they could agree on. Dad was a Sox fan and Mac grew up with the Yankees."

"I bet that made for an interesting season."

Sam smiled. "Jim had to play referee more than once."

Eli grinned. "So, they had their fights, too."

Sam nodded, getting the very clear feeling that Elijah was trying to make a point. "Just like me and Caleb." But it wasn't really, and Sam understood that all too well. There were other vague arguments in his head between Mac and Dad, usually involving him, Dean or Caleb, but they were unclear in hindsight. "But not exactly."

"What makes you say that?"

"I mean they didn't have all the baggage Caleb and I seem to have. They were friends-best friends."

"You and Caleb aren't close?"

"We're family," Sam said. "That counts for something."

"Of course. I didn't mean to insinuate otherwise."

"It's okay," Sam looked to his unconscious brother, wishing Dean would wake the hell up so everything else would seem inconsequential. "Apparently being family and being friends aren't always the same thing."

"I understand," Elijah said. "It was that way between me and Gideon."

Sam whipped his gaze back to the professor. "It was?"

"Definitely," Elijah said. He patted Boo once more and leaned back in his chair. "I mean we grew up together like you and Caleb. Gideon was always around, but he and Ethan were best friends. I think we sort of accepted that the other was going to be there, and took for granted that Ethan would suffice as our common denominator. It became more pronounced as we got older. He and Ethan had the same hobbies, interests. They were into horses, then cars, and eventually even their professions intersected. I didn't exactly mesh in their world."

Sam nodded. "Caleb and Dean are a lot alike. It's easy for them. They like poker, greasy fried food and loose women. Caleb's been around my entire life. He's like another older brother, but I don't think we know how to function or relate without it filtering through Dean."

"Dean might not always be around."

"Dean's fine. He's waking up." And they were saving him. There was no alternative.

"I don't doubt that," Elijah said. "I was referring to the fact that you three are set to be the next Triad. Dean's going to have more important things to deal with than playing referee between Knight and Scholar. You and Caleb will be called upon to work together as a team. Look at this last hunt. At least that's how Griffin explained it to me and Gideon, back before we understood the situation." Elijah was quick to explain. "Before we knew about what Dad did and what Griffin was a part of."

Sam could sense the sudden sadness. He still felt bad for the way Ethan and Elijah had discovered the truth about their father and Porter. "Right."

Elijah clasped his hands together, resting his elbows on his knees. "I know it's hard to reconcile the Griffin we knew and the one you remember, but he was a good teacher. At least, I think he understood the mechanics of how a Triad should perform."

Sam had no doubt that Griffin knew The Brotherhood inside and out. "That makes sense."

"While Ethan was at the police academy Griffin took Gideon and I hang gliding."

"Hang gliding?"

"I know." Elijah rolled his eyes. "I thought it entirely unfair seeing as how Gideon wanted to jump out of planes for a living, and he had his pilot's license. I would have at least chosen a level playing field for his little experiment, but then again I was never Griffin's favorite."

"What happened?"

"We nearly died," Elijah replied. "I loved Gideon but the man could be a know it all, bossy, and he had this extremely irritating way of saying things that made his proclamations come across in a very antagonistic, smug, and baiting manner."

"He was a smart ass?"

"Very much so." Elijah smiled. "His manner only sparked my own obstinate tendencies."

"You're stubborn?"

"Quite. We had a hard time learning to work together."

"But you came out better for the experience?"

"We survived and the next time was easier."

Sam shifted in his chair. "Did you ever take a swing at him?"

"Are you kidding? The man spent five days a week at the gym. I preferred verbal volley to full contact." He raised a brow. "But if I thought I could have taken him, I would have busted him in the mouth on many occasions."

As weird as it was, Sam took comfort in the thought. "Caleb and I have knocked each other around on both fronts these days."

"Sometimes words are worse. Bruises heal. Those blows to our ego are more resistant to care."

"Does it get easier?"

"It did for us. We learned to depend on one another and even came to enjoy each other's company. The hang gliding merely gave us a starting point, helped us realize that our relationship required a bit more work than his or Ethan's or mine and Ethan's. Believe it or not, we became quite addicted to the idiotic sport and began repeating it on a monthly basis. He was a good friend." Eli looked down to study the scarred wooden floor. "I haven't been able to bring myself to go since his death."

"I can't imagine loosing Dean or Caleb." It was one of the things that terrified Sam about being The Scholar. Their tendency to enjoy a longevity their counterparts did not worried him.

Elijah raised his head to meet Sam's gaze. "Is Dean going to Hell?"

The question stole Sam's breath. He was sure the look on his face gave way the answer without him saying a word. "How…"

"Paper thin walls. Remember?"

"Shit." Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "He doesn't want anyone to know. It's complicated."

"Gideon died to save him."

"Dean would never take that sacrifice lightly. He'd already made the deal for his soul before Wyoming, before he understood fully that he was The Guardian."

"Did he do it for you?"

"Yes," Sam said. "Sometimes Dean puts himself last on the grand scale of things."

"Is there a way out?"

"We hope so."

Elijah held his gaze for a long moment. "If you need us, Ethan and I will help."

"I can't make that decision. Not without speaking to Dean and Caleb." Sam sighed, looking once more to his unconscious brother. "Dean's not an option, but I guess I should go try and talk to Caleb."

"He's on the porch," Elijah said. "I heard him go out. Dean will be fine with me." Elijah bent to pick up the book Caleb dropped. "The Three Musketeers was always one of my favorites."

Sam stood, taking a deep breath. "I kind of feel like I'm jumping off a cliff."

"One word of advice." Elijah gave him a knowing smile. "Keep your wings up."

Caleb wasn't on the porch, but Sam found him at the pond sitting on one of the large rocks near the edge of the water. He turned at Sam's approach and the younger hunter realized he hadn't sensed his presence. "You okay?"

"Is Dean alright?"

Sam frowned, stepping closer to the other psychic. "You can't tell?"

"I asked, didn't I?"

Sam took a seat on a nearby rock, crossing his legs so that the lapping water wouldn't reach his boots. "Fighting off that demon took more energy that you thought."

Caleb looked at him. "You shouldn't have left him alone."

"I didn't. Eli's with him."

"Matthews isn't one of us."

Sam wasn't sure if Caleb meant a part of The Triad or a member of their surrogate family. "He knows about the deal."

Caleb raised his gaze heavenward and laughed. "Why the fuck doesn't that surprise me?"

"I guess we're not used to watching what we say, or yell, when we're at the farm." It was their one safe haven.

"Dean will be pissed." Caleb picked up a rock and tossed it into the water. "Nothing stays the same."

"Not all changes are bad," Sam offered.

Caleb tossed more stones into the pond. "That's not been my experience."

"There's a first time for everything."

"Yeah." Caleb threw another rock. "Like you being right for once."

Sam frowned. "I was right? About what exactly?"

Caleb finally looked at him. "The amulet…Deuce."

"I didn't want to be right about the amulet," Sam said. "I wanted it to be our ticket to saving him as much as you did. As for what I said about Dean back at the house…I only repeated what you told me in New Mexico. Nobody wishes it wasn't true more than me."

"I know who he is. Most of the time, I wouldn't change anything about him. But God, I hate watching him suffer," Caleb said softly. He looked out over the water. "I got a six month dose of it when you split for Stanford and last night at that warehouse…"

Sam automatically stiffened at the mention of Stanford, but tried to push his defensiveness aside. "Was it that bad when I was gone?"

Caleb looked at him. "Yes. Not the physical stuff, although he seemed to throw himself in harm's way a hell of a lot more often. But I was just as useless to protect him. Johnny was no help with his suck it up and carry on soldier routine. So I waited it out."

"When did it change?"

"When you came back."

"I never meant to hurt him and I can't go back and stop it from happening." Sam wouldn't change his time at Stanford if he could. He deserved a shot at a different life, but wished he had done things differently with Dean.

"I'm not asking you to."

"Then what do you want?" Sam asked, frustration edging his voice up once more. He wanted to make things right and they couldn't seem to get past what happened six years before. "Just tell me how to reach you, because after all this shit we've been through I still get the feeling I failed miserably in building that bridge, the one you promised that family could erect over any gap."

To his surprise Caleb's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

Sam gestured between them. "This friendship thing. I can't make it work. I can't find whatever Jessup thought we should find."

"That 'try being friends' line he fed us." Caleb laughed then. "And the 'it takes two' crap?"

"Yes!" Sam snapped. "And it wasn't crap. Jessup was right. We aren't friends. Friends don't treat each other the way we've been doing. We can't even carry on a decent conversation with Dean out of the picture."

"Sam, Jessup doesn't know anything about us."

"He knew enough to know we're not like you and Dean."

"Because you're a different person than Dean. You can't change that and I don't want you to."

"Then tell me what you do want." Sam's anger was growing. He was trying to put forth an olive branch only to have it consistently banged over his head.

"You're serious about this?" Caleb asked, lifting his hands in a helpless gesture. "Honestly, Sammy I don't know what to tell you."

"Start with the truth. I think if we're going to make this thing work that has to be the beginning point."

Caleb shoved up his sleeves, shaking his head. "Okay. For one, you're a goddamn selfish brat a lot of the times, and I suppose I had a hand in that over the years. But you were right about the New Mexico hunt - I did want you to come back home." Caleb angled his body to face him. "I wanted it for Dean, and for me, not because I thought it was the best thing for you. If I'd had it in my power, I would have gone and gotten your ass after the first week when you didn't return any of our calls."

Somehow having his accusations confirmed didn't make Sam feel one bit better especially when it sounded like Caleb was willing to sacrifice him for the sake of Dean's happiness. However, Sam knew the confession wasn't easy. Caleb hated the chick-flick scene almost as much as his brother.

"I hated that you left Dean and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to help him, but it was also about you. You deserved a shot." Caleb rubbed a hand over his mouth. "But it was about me, too. I didn't want things to change. I didn't want to lose our family. It's the only security I knew, and I hated like hell that your leaving screwed with it-scared the shit out of me."

After coming close to losing Dean over the last two years, and with the threat of the deal looming before them, Sam could understand Caleb's fear. He wished for things to remain the same. Change worked against them. "It's okay."

"No it's not." Caleb shook his head. "But it's the truth, and if you're hell bent on this 'friend' thing, I think you're right about honesty being a big part of it, seeing as how the typical beating the shit out of each other didn't seal the bond." He exhaled heavily. "It's harder between us, and I'm not sure why, but that doesn't mean it's impossible."

"It's because we're too much alike." Sam mumbled as he raked a hand through his hair. "I should tell you that I let you use the amulet even though I knew it was wrong because I wanted to get Dean back. I felt how off you were at Jessup's, understood all too clearly what you were risking. But I didn't make you stop. I had to help Dean."

"He's your brother. Your loyalty should be with him."

Something in the casual way Caleb accepted his admission pissed Sam off. "That's not an excuse."

"I didn't say it was. But it's true," Caleb said. "Deuce feels the same way about you. I accepted that a long time ago."

"So you're okay with being second to both of us?"

Caleb pulled his legs in, leaning his upper body against his knees. "Since when is it a competition?"

"Since when hasn't it been a competition?" Sam growled. He was beginning to think that was at the heart of their issues, and until they got past it no amount of truth telling was going to bring them any closer.

He watched Caleb open and close his mouth, biting down on his first instinct to deny it. "Since you shot me."

Sam wrinkled his brow, frowning at the sudden shift. "What?" Whatever telling answer he'd been expecting, that wasn't it.

"You fucking shot me." Caleb's voice rose. "I was laying on the ground bleeding to death. Instead of letting you take the fall, Dean took the blame. He was more concerned about what Johnny might do to you, than what might happen to me. So, I threw in the towel, playing along admitting my own guilt in the accident, knowing that if I lived your old man was going to ride our asses the entire summer."

Sam felt his face redden. They had never talked about it and he'd pushed it to the far reaches of his memories along with the hum, where he kept those moments he never wanted to resurface again. He assumed Caleb had done the same. "I tried to tell Dad once, but Dean stopped me."

Caleb laughed. "Blood is thicker than anything."

Sam bit back on his first response. He wanted to point out that Caleb was family just as he had to Eli, no matter if the biology backed it up or not. But a look from the other psychic stopped him.

"It's not you, Sammy. It's Deuce. Like you said in there. He is who he is. That day you shot me, I had the exact same choice you had in that hospital in New Mexico. I had to either accept him for who he was, or walk away and let him go. Because I wasn't going to change the fact he was Captain Onehelluva Big Brother. You reminded me of that."

"But you stayed back then," Sam said, feeling the weight of their different paths.

"When I woke up at Bobby's I had every intention of getting the hell out of Dodge, making a clean break from the whole Winchester clan."

"What stopped you?" Sam asked, even if he could guess at the answer. One look at Caleb's face and he understood the truth. It was the same certainty that drove Dean to lie to his father that day so long ago, to completely forgive Sam for living three years at Stanford without him, and the undeniable fact that provoked Dean to trade his soul for Sam's life. Unconditional love was a bitch.

"He asked me to stay and I couldn't…hell, I wouldn't tell him no."

Sam held his gaze. "Now you know why I didn't go back in that hospital room that day in Taos."

Caleb took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think I always understood that, but in the end I had to watch him be hurt again. It was easier to be pissed at you than to blame it on him."

"For what it's worth, there are times when I'd much rather be his best friend than his brother."

Caleb offered him a weak grin. "Then I guess we're even."

"So we're good?"

"We're good, Runt." Caleb stood, offering Sam a hand up. "Now that this bitchfest is over, let's go

Is this too quick?

check on your brother."

"I wish he'd wake up."

Caleb hoisted Sam to his feet. "Something else we agree on. Jessup should see us now."

"We definitely need to be on the same page with his time dwindling and Rose still on the loose."

"You sure we should chuck the amulet?"

"We've already decided about that. I'll call Joshua first thing tomorrow to see exactly how we go about it."

"We'll have to kick up our effort for another way out." Caleb started towards the house. "What about that voice of God stuff? You really heard that hum back in Taos?"

"I did." Sam rubbed his eyes, remembering the seizing panic he'd felt when the noise first started. "You and Dean ever debunk the source?"

"No. By the time Deuce got out of the hospital. Celeste was set on leaving. I let it go in lieu of getting back to the farm."

"We could check in with Tucker," Sam offered. "You never know."

Caleb nodded. "That's exactly what I was thinking." He grinned. "You finishing my thoughts now? Next thing you know we'll be buying matching shirts."

"Please." Sam rolled his eyes. "I prefer a taste in wardrobe not be one of our common denominators."

"Snob." Caleb shoved him hard.

"Hey." Sam laughed. "How do you feel about hang gliding?"


The words were well known to Dean, the introduction of D'Artagnan and his valiant plans to leave for Paris. The voice was all wrong. Caleb read him The Three Musketeer as a boy, the first night they met and then countless other times when he was sick or hurt. With great effort, Dean turned his head towards the narrator, knowing before he opened his eyes he wouldn't find his best friend.

The reading stopped. Dean blinked hard, shrinking back as he sensed the unknown presence moving closer. "Dean?" When he managed opening his eyes, Elijah Matthews's face loomed above him. "Can you hear me?"

"Eli?" His voice was off, scratchy and barely audible. Even worse, the attempt to speak ignited a fire in his throat. He winced, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain. "God…what…"

Elijah suddenly moved away, the book clunking to the floor as he made for the door. "Bobby! He's awake!"

Dean tried to sit up. Elijah's shouting startled him. His body betrayed him with its weakness, head pounding at the movement, the walls wildly spinning around him. He recognized his room at the farm though the pale paint blended into a big blue blur causing his stomach to flip flop. The last thing Dean remembered was going to a bar with his brother. There had been no plans to go to the farm.

A loud whine was followed by the sensation of a warm rag being dragged across his ear. Dean managed to lift an arm to fend off the big black and pink tongue assaulting him, Boo's hot kibble breath not helping with the nausea. "Boo…off."

"I don't think it's a good idea to move very quickly. Your body has been inactive for several days."

Dean wanted to tell Professor Matthews exactly what he could do with his astute observation and late suggestion, but his throat wasn't cooperating. At least he coaxed Boo from the bed, pulling a half-asleep Beagle from Dean's side, too.

"Where…" The single word was agony and Dean was pretty sure his last meal consisted of ground glass and rubbing alcohol although faint memories painted a very different picture- Jim's fried chicken and Miss Emma's apple pie.

Elijah seemed to grasp the sentiment of the shortened inquiry. "Sam and Caleb are just outside. Bobby's on his way."

Dean sank back to the mattress. Thank God. Bobby was there. His brother and Caleb would explain everything. They would make the spinning stop. Heavy footfalls had him trying to focus his gaze on the hallway beyond the door. It was Bobby who entered, disheveled and wearing only flannels and a matching shirt. Dean forced a half-smile. When he felt better he would harass the mechanic about the pajamas.

"About damn time you woke up, Hot Shot. A man can't buy a decent night's sleep around this place with you out of the picture." Bobby moved past the chairs claiming a spot on the side of Dean's bed. He rested a hand on his arm. "How you feeling, boy?"

"What…happened?" Dean ground out. His face must have shown his agony because Bobby pointed towards the bathroom.

"Grab him a glass of water, Eli."

The professor moved out of his line of sight and Dean focused completely on Bobby. "Sam…Caleb?" If he was as bad off as he felt, they would have been by his side…if they were able.

Bobby opened his mouth to reply, but Elijah interrupted him.

"Here. I wouldn't give him too much considering we don't know what, if anything, he was given for food or drink."


"Drink this first and then I'll explain."

Dean's burning esophagus won out over his fear and relented as Bobby helped him sit up, plumping a pillow behind him. He took the offered water with the mechanic's help, taking a few blessed drinks before the glass was pulled away. "Better?"

Dean nodded, bringing one hand to rest against his neck. "My throat…what happened?"

"I'd wager a guess your throat is extremely irritated due to overuse," Elijah said.

Dean frowned and looked to Bobby, who rolled his eyes. "Screaming, Son. Lots and lots of screaming."

"That…doesn't sound good." Dean searched his memory, trying to recall the impetus for all the yelling. He was pretty damn sure it hadn't been done in cheer, like the few times he had gone to Sox games. A feeling of dread started to sink in through the confusion, and Dean's body reacted with a hard shiver. Suddenly seeing his brother and best friend became much more urgent. "Bobby, where the hell are Caleb and Sammy?"

Bobby looked to Eli. Dean watched Elijah shift his weight from foot to foot, folding his arms over his chest. "They had some issues to discuss…outside."

Bobby grunted. "They're going at it again?"

"Going at it?" Dean tried to shift himself higher in the bed.

"This was more of an argument than a fight," Elijah told Bobby, before casting a quick glance to Dean. "Nothing to worry about. I'll go and get them."

Dean licked his lips, ignoring his protesting throat. "They're okay?"

"They're a couple of idgits is what they are." Bobby rubbed a hand over his beard. "Beating the shit out of one another when we've got enough goddamn people willing to take a piece of our hide without us lending them a helping hand."

"What?" Dean croaked.

Bobby set the water down on the bedside table with enough force that the remaining liquid splashed on the floor, Boo rushing to lick it up. "You should have seen the two Cro-Magnons when they showed up black and blue at my door, looking like death warmed over. I should have kicked their asses then. Your Daddy would have blown a gasket. It didn't take more than twenty four hours after you disappeared for the two of them to start tearing into each other."

"They're hurt?" Dean's pounding head was only allowing bits and pieces of Bobby's tirade to penetrate. Most of it didn't make sense.

"I hope they're feeling every damn bump and bruise."

"Damn it, Bobby," Dean hissed. "What the hell happened?"

Bobby studied Dean. "You were kidnapped."

Dean tried for a calming breath, but the sensation was akin to taking a deep inhale in an inferno. The pain fed his frustration. "Why is Eli here?"

"I called him and his brother in to help with your situation. Elijah did that no pain trick on you after the rescue. Sometimes that psychic shit comes in handy."

The dread was gaining ground, quickly spiraling to panic. His breath quickened as images of a woman's face and bright lights flashed off and on in his mind. There had been others, men holding him down, 

strapping him to a table, needles and then unbelievable pain. "That bitch…" Dean gulped in another quick breath. "Rose."

Bobby grabbed the trash can. Dean was thankful for the mechanic's quick reflexes when bile seared the back of his throat, his eyes stinging as his body attempted to get rid of the small amount of water Bobby had just given him. The process was over fairly quickly, but the dry heaving left Dean shaky and sweating.

Dean squeezed his eyes shut as Bobby helped him lie back against the pillows. He lifted a hand in affirmation instead of using his head, not wanting a repeat of the consequences. The mechanic's palm was cool to his forehead and Dean concentrated on short shallow breaths.

"I didn't mean to upset you. Your brother and Caleb are okay. Don't worry. I'll be taking care of them after you're feeling better."

Dean opened his eyes, searching Bobby's face for any hints that he wasn't being on the level. "Why the hell were they fighting?"

"They lost it when you up and disappeared." He removed his hand from Dean's head and rubbed his eyes. "You had us all worried. People do crazy shit when they're scared of losing people they love. We can't hold it against them."

Dean started to feel better when Bobby forced a smile. "For all they claim to know about you, they seem to forget one very important fact."

"What's that?"

"Dean Winchester happens to have a heart the size of the Impala's block engine."

Dean frowned at the strange turn in conversation, worried that maybe he was in some bizarre world and this wasn't really Robert Singer, bad-ass demon slayer extraordinaire sitting at his side. "What?"

Bobby patted his leg as footsteps pounded on the stairs beyond the doorway. "Speak of the devils."


Dean eased back on the pillows, as his brother entered. "Sammy."

"Thank God you're awake." Sam stood behind Bobby, Caleb claiming the chair Elijah had been using.

"Deuce, how you feeling?"

"Bad," Dean confessed. He cut his glance to Caleb. "Almost as bad as you look."

"And here I was about to say seeing you all lovely and refreshed after your fifteen hour nap was better than that first glimpse of Sport's Illustrated swimsuit issue."

"How long was I gone?"

"A couple of days."

"I don't remember much." Dean licked his lips, hoping to get some more water soon after his failed attempt. "Some flashes of Rose. She did something…" Dean straightened his arm as more images came to him, looking down at the bend in his elbow. There were trace marks of several injections. "The bitch drugged me."

"She wanted to know where Noah Seaver's amulet was," Sam explained, looking at Bobby who glanced away.

"Damn. I think I told her." He was trying to recall his exact words.

"She wanted to make a trade," Caleb interjected, but talking to Sam not to Dean.

"You didn't give it to her?" Dean hoped it wasn't in her clutches. There were enough deals, and one more would put the balance in favor of evil.

"No." Sam said. "We destroyed it."

"Good. We can't risk her bringing something worse than The Yellow-Eyed bastard."

"The doctor she body snatched says you'll be fine in a few days. There're no lasting side effects of the drug she used," Sam said, then added, "It made you think…"

"It was bad news," Caleb interrupted. "It's probably better you don't remember."

Dean met his friend's gaze. They were worried he had been caught up in Hell. He probably was, and was just as glad he couldn't remember. It was time, though, for him to turn the tables. "Just like it's better I don't know what you two have been up to."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked, but pointedly directing the question to Bobby.

"Dean, glad you're awake. I'm going to leave you to it, and get some sleep." Bobby made his exit, then snapped his fingers for the dogs to follow.

Dean met his brother's innocent gaze. "What happened to your face, Sammy? Rose get a hold of you?"

"No. She didn't touch me."

"Bobby said you did that to each other."

They exchanged guilty looks. "What?"

"Caleb hit me first," Sam suddenly confessed.

"What?" Caleb glared at the younger hunter.

Dean cut his gaze to his best friend. "What the hell, Damien? Were you possessed?"

"No," Sam quickly answered. "Why would you even think that? He was just being his typical 'fly off the handle' self."

"You called me a demonic bastard," Caleb defended. He turned to Dean, pleading his case. "And did you see my eye? The little shit sucker punched me…"

"I did not. I hit you full on."

Dean was getting whiplash from the verbal sparring and was still confused. "Why the hell have you been fighting?"

"It was nothing," Sam said.

"Right," Caleb added. "We were just bonding."

"Bonding?" Dean rested his hand at the base of his throat, hoping the fire would die down to continue the conversation.

"Like Dad and Mac used to do. Remember when we were kids?"

Dean had learned long ago that it was a bad sign when Sam brought up the past. It meant he was hiding something, and wanted to shroud it in the warmth of the farm and the glow of the past good times. "Yeah, I remember, but neither one of you are baseball fans."

"Basketball. Celtics and Lakers." Caleb snapped back, pointing to himself when he mentioned the Celtics, and to Sam with his reference to the Lakers.

Dean closed his eyes for a moment. He recalled Dad and Mac fighting about the way John was raising his sons, and the danger he put Caleb in. The Pastor used to referee. Dean wasn't about to go down that road. "I'm not Jim either."

"We're not asking you to be," Sam replied softly.

"Yeah, man, we'll start doing the friendly wager thing instead of swapping insults. No need for Guardian interference."

Dean looked from Caleb to his brother and back. "I can't leave you two alone without some kind of trouble."

Caleb grinned. "That's why you have to stick around. No more disappearing, Deuce."

Dean winced again, and Caleb stood. "You want me to get Eli back in here?"

Dean didn't want to give into his pain, and the need to want to drift off. He had the feeling he had been doing that a lot over the last few days. If Eli's mojo gave him some relief he wasn't going to be stubborn about it. "Yeah."

Caleb's hand went to his shoulder, giving a quick squeeze before he shared another glance with Sam and left them alone.

"You two really okay?"

"We will be." Sam nodded. "I thought we were going to lose you."

"That why you pulled out the big guns?" Dean motioned to the dream catcher from New Mexico, which he kept in the Impala.

"Caleb's idea." Sam chewed on his lips before continuing. "I'm sorry I let Rose take you. If I had known for one minute or sensed what she was in that bar…"


"I'm sorry for a lot of things. The fights with Dad, putting you in the middle, and Stanford…"

"Dude," Dean interrupted, not knowing why they were back in the past. It made him feel as though he should go back to sleep, and wake up to try again to see what greeted him. "Just how hard did Caleb hit you?"

Sam self-consciously brought his hand to his jaw, giving his brother a hesitant smile. "About what you'd expect."

Dean sighed. " How many times did I warn you when we were kids about poking Belac with a stick?"

Sam grinned, dimples flashing. "I guess I got used to Athewm shielding me in the nick of time."

"I won't always be around to protect you, Sammy."

"You're not going anywhere."

Dean cleared his throat. "We need to have to work on that bob and weave, little brother maybe put in some sparring time after our lessons on the Impala's engine." Dean rubbed his neck, the pain notching up from his talking.

"I'm still reveling in having you back with us. Don't start threatening me just yet." Sam reached for the water glass on the nightstand. Dean went for his brother's hand to stop him, not willing to ingest anything else regardless of the burning in this throat. They succeeded in knocking the glass over, Sam managing to catch it before it fell. He didn't stop the white horse, which bounced on the hard wood with a clatter.

"Hope," Sam said, replacing the glass before reaching for the small sculpture.

Dean focused on the toy as his brother carefully turned it over in his hands inspecting it for any damage. "The thing with wings," Dean muttered as a flutter of a memory tried to break free from the chrysalis of his mind - Pastor Jim's smile, the smell of apples and cinnamon, his mother's laugh. "Mom."

Sammy's touch anchored him back in the present. His little brother's eyes were wide with worry. "She's fine. Not a scratch on her."

Dean reached for the horse. Sam let his brother have the toy. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Dean looked from the winged horse to his brother. "I was just remembering something Jim used to say."


Dean held his gaze. "With hope, anything's possible." Dean didn't continue as Eli entered the room with Caleb on his heels.

"Last time I did this you were out of it and Caleb helped so it was easy. . ."

Dean didn't know if he wanted to be referred to as easy. He cocked an eyebrow up in response, and watched Eli squirm. "Because you're The Guardian. It's a little different."

"I get it. Just tell me what I have to do." Each word was piercing his throat. He followed Eli's directions, and it was an odd feeling where one moment there was pain, and the next there wasn't. "Thanks," Dean started and continued before Eli could accept the apology. "Thanks for this, and you and your brother. You don't owe us after Gideon. . ."

"It is what he would want. For us to stick together," Eli replied. "To protect The Brotherhood."

Dean looked past the professor to Sam and Caleb. He recognized things had changed for the better. "Protecting your brothers should come first. It's all any Guardian can ask." It was worth any sacrifice Dean would be called upon to make.

RCJ-September 2008

A/N: Wow. Almost 300 pages later and this story is finally complete. I couldn't have done it without Tidia and her many suggestions. I so appreciate the feedback from the readers, and the patience as I know this wasn't an easy story to read and stick with. It wasn't an easy story to tell either. I hope there was a pay off in the end. One you'll understand more in the next two multi-chapter stories. Speaking of which, Marked Time from Tidia is complete and coming up very soon. Trust me ,you'll love it. Especially Dean fans. And we will have a surprise for you in the epilogue. Tidia tells me she should have the first chapter up before our yearly rendezvous for the season premier. Can you all believe season four is finally here!! The Beginning of the End will be after Marked Time. It is a one-shot from me, and you'll finally see the first meeting between John and Mac. Then the conclusion of our long arc with In Victus. And on other mediums, Sensue has an awesome new vid up for Noble Obligation. You can find it at The Triad or follow the link to her page from The Hunter's Tomb. Tara also has a new vid up called It's Raining Men. Sigh. If you need to tide yourself over until Thursday. Check them out!