In Victus

By: Tidia and Ridley

Beta: That Girl Six


Ridley: Tidia and I consider this our season finale. It's only been a year or so in the works! I want to thank all the people who have read our AU and commented on it; the enthusiasm was and still is contagious. I want to thank Tara and Sensue for the videos and everyone else out there who has done fan art and those who have written in the AU, making it even more fun to write in. Last but not least, thanks to Tidia who is an awesome writing partner and indulges my crazy phone calls about any new plot or idea I come up with! Also, about a year ago someone sent me this poem and said it reminded them of Dean and they thought it would make a great intro to a story, a reader who I cannot for the life of me remember. But they deserve credit for this story in a lot of ways, because the poem was part of our inspiration. So, thank you.

Ti's notes: Ridley's next story is No More Blood to Bleed, and as we got deep into writing this, I kept thinking it was a more appropriate title. There were a few stressful events going on, but in the back of my mind I knew this was important to the readers. Thank you to Ridley who kept pushing on and I would follow suit. Thank you to our beta who also has had a tumultuous period, but was so willing to help. It's hard to ask for help, and awesome when it is given so selflessly. They know who they are 


In Victus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow'd

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul. –

William Ernst Henley

"It won't work." Sam watched as Caleb traced his fingers over the ruby encrusted athame. The older hunter sat across from him, the large round table between cluttered with journals, maps, books, and ancient artifacts. Nothing in The Hunter's Tomb had been left untouched in their frantic last minute search for something, anything to save Dean.

Caleb looked up from the blade, his gold eyes shaded by the faded Auburn Tigers baseball cap he was wearing. "Because I marked him all those years ago?"

Sam snorted at the guilt-laced, weary tone. "No, you idiot. Because Dean is so not going to let you shove Echnon's Blade into some innocent body to hide his soul, no matter how you plead your case."

Calebheld the magical blade in front of him. "There are a lot of people out there who aren't innocent."

"In theory, I totally agree with you, but I'm not sure it's our place to make that call."

"But if you buy into Tucker's spew on free will…"

Sam thought back to their recent visit to see the guru in Taos, New Mexico. "I think Tucker was pointing out that God wasn't responsible for all the bad stuff that happens, not really inferring we should take up the slack."

Caleb tossed the blade onto the table. "It was just more talk, and not in the voice of God as we had hoped." He slid his hands through his hair. "Weeks of talking and not a damn thing to show for it. Maybe we should have taken your friend Clara's twenty year reprieve. Mayberry is looking damn good right about now."

"We agreed disappearing wouldn't guarantee his safety when we returned, and Dean was right: it's not in our nature to run and hide, or to leave those we care about in a lurch."

"At this point, I'm willing to let some moral ground slide."

Sam understood his friend's frustration, shared in it. They had been in more churches and spoken to more spiritualists and holy men in the last months than during their entire lives. Dean was practically a walking, talking shrine, although he still had a tendency to balk at the idea of a higher power for good. Still, no clear cut answer had been given to them. Their search for the Colt had ended with Bela's surprise deadline coming due. Ruby still refused to hand over her knife, offering only her instruction to Sam instead. Nothing was working in their favor. The smile he forced was painful as he halfheartedly said, "We still have hope."

Caleb's glare let him know just how tiring that reassurance was becoming. "And less than a week in which to see some concrete proof of all that faith."

"If you've got a better idea, let me know."

"You've seen how my last few lightbulb moments have turned out." Caleb picked up Echnon's Blade again. "I'm down to this. It might be our last option."

Caleb's gypsy contact had gone badly, as had his satanic cult contact and the witch doctor. Their purposeful turn towards lighter options had been, if not prudent, at least a reprieve from the hostile. Sam felt selfish to admit that delving into the holy side of the supernatural had been more comforting to him than helpful to his brother. Besides, his brother was adamant: no dark means would be used in his actual rescue. Echnon's blade would require a human sacrifice. "I'd love to see you try to convince Dean of that."

"Convince me of what?"

They both turned as Dean entered The Tomb. He was carrying a sandwich with a piece of pie precariously perched on top of it and a glass of milk, which explained why Boo was right on his heels.

Caleb lowered the blade, clearing his throat. "You going to share that?"

Dean hooked his foot around the leg of a chair and pulled it close to the table before sitting down next to Sam. He placed the pie on a pile of papers and tore into his sandwich. "Make your own damn lunch, Damien."

"What happened to hospitality?"

"Hospitality?" The question was mumbled around a large bite of peanut butter and jelly.

"This is your house now," Caleb said. "Jim left big shoes for you to fill. You haven't cooked us one damn thing."

Dean gestured to the pie. "I made dessert last night."

"You bought that at the Publix in Louisville."

"And you haven't shared it," Sam said. He broke a corner off the apple confection, only to have his hand slapped by his brother.

"Back off, Bitch."

Sam popped the morsel in his mouth before rubbing his stinging appendage. "Jerk."

"So tell me you two have come up with something better than Duran Hughes's pig sticker while I was bailing Boo Radley out of jail." He used his PB&J sandwich to gesture to the knife in Caleb's hand. "Because that relic stays in The Tomb."

Caleb didn't bother to argue, tossing the athame on top of the journals Sam had been reading. "So what did the repeat offender do this time?"

Sam was set to talk about the possible lead in Arkansas, but stayed quiet in lieu of the older hunter's redirect. Caleb wasn't the only one who needed a break.

Dean glanced down to where Boo was sitting at attention, waiting for even the tiniest crumb to fall. "He was caught red-pawed banging Ms. Carver's prize winning Border Collie, Penelope."

"No way."

Dean's mouth twitched. "Carver doused the two love birds with a water hose and had Boo on lockdown in the root cellar. I had to talk a good game to get him early release."

"That's like the third call this month," Caleb said. "Boo definitely gets around. Good thing I thought of those tags."

"Yeah." Dean lifted his middle finger in a show of gratitude. "Thanks for that, Damien."

Sam hid his smile by taking a long drink of his brother's milk. Caleb had put Dean's cell number on Boo's ID tags. Dean had gotten numerous calls about the pup's antics over the last months. The caretaker Mac had hired to care for the farm and the animals might have been excellent at keeping up the chores and feeding the livestock, but he wasn't on twenty-four hour surveillance. Boo was fond of chasing barn cats, snacking from the neighbor's trash, burying bones in gardens and marking the entire two mile radius around the farm as his personal territory where he sewed his wild oats.

Sam put his brother's half-empty glass down and swiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "You could solve some of the problem by having him neutered. He might stay at home for a change." Caleb and Dean shot him twin looks of horror. Boo whined. Sam rolled his eyes. "What? It's better for his health."

"No way!" Dean shook his head. "You might embrace the life of chastity, Sammy, but don't inflict your prudishness on Boo here."

"I second that opinion," Caleb said. "Majority rules. Boo's manhood remains intact."

"Mac would vote with me."

Dean grinned. "Good thing Doc's not here then or we'd have a stalemate."

Sam smiled, tapping his head. "He's on his way."

His brother turned to Caleb nodding in agreement. "Just pulled in the driveway. Don't worry, though. Boo still gets a vote."

The Golden Retriever mix barked, his ears lifting, tail thumping furiously as he started for the door to The Tomb. Harper even rose from his pillowed bed by the bookcase and trotted after the pup.

"This can't be good," Dean said. "He was in New York this morning."

"Maybe he's come up with something to help." Sam hoped that was the case. As The Scholar, Mackland had contacts with Brotherhood members around the globe and had utilized all his resources to aid in the search for a way out of the deal.

Caleb slid his chair back. "If it were good news, he would have called."

Dean swallowed the rest of his sandwich and stood. "I didn't even get to finish my pie."

"Karma." Caleb slapped Dean in the gut as he passed by.

"I have beads for that," Dean said, rubbing the spot where the psychic had hit him. He pointed a finger at Sam. "Don't even think about it. I'm eating it when we get back."

Sam glanced to the pie, the pile of research stacked on the table, and then to his brother's retreating back. "Let's hope you still have your appetite."

Mackland was waiting for them in the kitchen, having entered and fought off Boo's enthusiastic greeting. He was still wearing his coat, though the weather in Kentucky was warm for late April. He had no bags, which to Sam signaled an unplanned and brief stay.


"Son." Mackland gave Caleb a brief hug before turning to Dean. Sam watched as his brother returned the doctor's strong embrace. It was one of the changes Sam had noticed over the last few months as Dean's days flew past. His brother didn't shirk from physical contact, but seemed to crave it. Caleb noticed it, too. Neither he nor Sam mentioned it, but they knew what it meant. Dean was scared.

"Are you okay, Samuel?"

Mac's warm hand on his shoulder brought him from his musings and he forced a grin. "I'm good, Mac. How about you?"

"I've been better."

The weariness of the words had Sam's chest clenching. One look to his brother and Caleb and he knew they felt the same unmistakable chill of dread.

"What's wrong?" Dean asked.

Mackland gave Sam's shoulder another brief squeeze before releasing him. The doctor ran a finger over his brow, a tell-tale sign he was trying to temper his emotions. "There was an incident."

"Is Bobby okay?" Dean's face paled, and Sam would have to have been a mile away to miss the spike of fear.

"He's fine," Caleb said confidently before Mackland could. He held Dean's gaze, giving a slight nod. "Missouri, too."

"Then what or who?" Dean demanded.

"Dean," Sam said. They weren't giving Mackland a chance to speak.

"Boone Adams was murdered last night at The Boonedocks."



Sam took a moment to absorb what Mac had said, the ramifications swiftly running through his mind. "Why?" Boone wasn't a hunter or in The Brotherhood. He was neutral territory.

They all looked at him. It would have been slightly amusing under different circumstances. 'Why' had always been his reply to so many things — typical Sammy. Unfortunately, this interrogative had little to do with his natural inquisitiveness and everything to do with trepidation. "Mac?"

He knew he'd hit a nerve when Mackland's face drained of color. "We believe it was demons…Rose and her constituents."

"Goddamnit!" Dean growled. "That fucking bitch."

Sam bit his lower lip. "Revenge for what happened in Alabama."

"What about Kathleen? Riley?" Caleb asked.

Mackland pulled a chair from the table and took a seat. He ran a hand through his hair. "They came after hours to catch Kathleen and Boone closing up for the night. Kathleen was knocked around a bit, but otherwise unharmed." He rubbed his eyes. "They made her watch."

"They wanted a witness," Dean said.

Sam glanced to Caleb, who had gone completely still. "What good is a fucking show if there's no audience to tell about it…to remember it years later?"

"How does she know it was Rose?" Sam asked.

Mackland sighed. "The woman left an unmistakable calling card. She pinned a brooch to Boone's chest after carving the Triad symbol into him. The pin was a rose."

"She's calling us out," Dean said. "More of her sick, fucked up demonic games. This is because of us."

Mackland jerked his gaze from the floor, zeroing in on Dean. Sam felt the snap of electricity. "I am all that's left of the current Triad. This is not about you."

"Come on, Dad. You know who she meant the message for."

Mackland stood. "All I know is that until it is made official, I am The Triad. That makes me ultimately responsible for what goes on within The Brotherhood, and also leaves me to answer not only to those who have been wronged, but to bring those who have wronged us to justice. I am not out of this yet."

"What do you want us to do?" Dean asked.

It was Sam's turn to be caught off guard. His brother's question was almost as out of character as the physical contact as of late. Any other time, Dean would have bucked the idea of Mackland pulling rank. But one thought of Riley and Kathleen and the answer was simple. "We have to go after her."

Mackland's gaze turned to him. "I'm not suggesting that we don't, Samuel. Only that I will be the one to decide how that is done, and who will be doing it."

"We have other things on our plate," Caleb said.

Dean met Caleb's pointed gaze with one of his own. "We helped make this mess, Damien."

"And I want to tear that bitch apart for what she's done to us, for what she did to you — and now Boone. But saving you is our priority."

"We owe it to Kathleen and to Riley."

"A week, Dean. One fucking week!"

"You don't think I know that? It's my week and —"

"Boys!" Mackland nearly knocked his chair over to step between the two. "Arguing with each other will only impede progress on any front."

Sam cleared his throat, attempting to break the tension. He understood both sides, was just as desperate as Caleb to find the answers for Dean. He also knew his brother would never walk away from a situation he felt responsible for. He had another take on the situation, one that might satisfy both hunters. "What if this isn't just about revenge? Why is Rose doing this now, right before Dean's deal is due?"

"You think she's in bed with Lilith?" Caleb asked.

Dean's mouth twitched. "Dude, leave it to you to make the ultimate evil conspiracy or worst nightmare porn-worthy."

"At least I didn't put an Al Pacino spin on it."

Sam rolled his eyes at the poor attempt of Caleb and Dean's typical sick sense of humor. "Maybe we're getting closer to finding Lilith than we know, and she wants us off her trail."

"Ruby hint at that?" Dean asked.

"I haven't called Ruby." It was literally true, although not completely honest. Sam felt his face flush at the implication. His brother was determined not to call on Ruby for assistance.

"If we are spooking them, then it's even more evidence that we shouldn't stray from the path we're on," Caleb said.

"Both are valid points." Mackland held up his hand to ward off Dean's building protest and the glare from his son. "But first thing first: as the future Triad, you do have an obligation to fulfill."

Sam was almost afraid to ask. Their duties so far had led to Caleb drowning and Gideon Lane's death, not to mention his brother being kidnapped and tortured by Rose.

"The situation with Gideon was unusual; your lack of attendance understandable, but Boone's funeral is tomorrow. You'll be expected to make an appearance and provide a united front."

Silence filled the room. Memories of the one and only mainstream funeral Sam remembered flooded his thoughts with the nauseating scent of colorful flowers. He could recall the sobbing of their mutual friends, the way Kim clung to Peter, unable to bear her own grief. Then there were the screams, those heart-crushing, gut-knotting cries of her mother as Jessica's remains were interred. His brother had tethered him that day, never leaving his side as they sat through the torturous ceremony in the chapel and then the graveside service.

Dean's firm voice now anchored him to the present. Sam blinked. "It's the right thing to do."

Mackland nodded. "We'll figure the rest out, boys. I promise."


They rolled into town in time for the services. Dean on purpose did not want to be there a day ahead for the wake and was glad about his fear of flying for the excuse it gave him. There was no time to talk to the others, which again worked out for the best. He wished he could be a little more like Jim, ready to make a consoling comment or offer a blessing instead of just a curt "He was a good man." When the time came, he rested his hand on the closed part of the casket. He walked alongside the casket with Riley and Buzz each taking a side with Mac, Bobby, Ethan, Elijah, Caleb and Sam also as pallbearers.

Dean found the ceremony disconcerting. Boone would be cremated, but a Viking funeral would have been more appropriate, like what they had done for their father who had died before his time. "I don't want this," he whispered to his brother, who frowned at him and gripped the hymnal.

Caleb narrowed his eyes at Dean and then snapped them forward to the minister trying to embody Boone's life in a two minute speech. It was evident he didn't know the man. Then just as quick, it was over, everyone filing out and heading to The Boonedocks to lick their wounds and properly remember the man.

Dean was sorry it had come to Boone being killed because of Rose's vendetta. He remembered Boone from when they were kids, and he had seemed bigger than life, then became reacquainted when Caleb had gotten poisoned. He was still bigger than life, someone who had created a life on his terms. He rolled his shoulders. Dean was leading the way, Sam and Caleb behind him. He paused at the entrance and it wasn't unnoticed: the attention of the occupants in the bar shifted to them.

"This is why I don't dress-up more often," Caleb commented, adjusting the tie of his expensive designer suit. He had offered to buy them new clothes, but it would be money wasted. Dean didn't need a suit for where he was going. He didn't share those humorous morose thoughts with his brother or Caleb. He was just thankful the sleeves covered the Buddhist prayer beads, Kabala bracelet, and Maltese cross that were encircling his wrists at the insistence of Caleb and Sam. They wanted to try everything, including the scapular, orthodox cross, and Star of David he wore around his neck.

He was glad for the extra protection while amongst his peers. Dean finally understood the mystique of The Triad and why they were kept separate from the other hunters. The low murmuring of the room restarted when they reached Buzz.

"Been awhile, boys," Buzz greeted them. He had been hovering over Kathleen and his nephew, shifting to keep the line moving so there was minimal contact between the hunters and the family. Dean wondered if that was Buzz's doing, following his brother's wishes, or Kathleen's. Buzz was allowing them closer, as he did with Mackland, Esme and Bradley — all arm distance away, at the ready to provide support.

Dean found Bobby was talking to Ellen and some hunter who he didn't recognize. He didn't recognize many. Some wore rings, some didn't, but he knew they were hunters and wary. Joshua gave him a nod. Carolyn was sitting down next to Elijah and Ethan. Silas was standing next to Joshua talking, while Harland and Griffin were not in sight, probably skipping the foray after the church services. They didn't belong on neutral territory anymore. Boone's was considered Switzerland. He didn't know if that would change, if hunters would be welcomed at all.

He swallowed as he made his way to Riley at a loss for words. The way the kid was fidgeting made him look like a little boy in a dark suit needing his father to still show him the way to manhood. There wasn't much Dean could say about losing a parent, a father who was idolized. 'Welcome to the club' seemed a poor beginning. He knew Riley didn't want to hear 'at least you still have your mother.' Parents were not interchangeable — there was a desire for both of them.

Riley, his eyes red-rimmed, gripped the sleeve of Dean's jacket before he had the opportunity to make any comment. "I want to go find who did this and kill them."

Dean shook his head. He couldn't allow this cycle; his father's example had taught him. He wanted more for Riley than to be caught up in revenge, making deals, and not living a full life. "You have school and your dad —"

"Is dead." Riley's nostrils flared; his voice took on a husky tone. "All you need to say is yes. You of all people should get it. I have to do this."

"No. Absolutely not," Kathleen stated with a wheeze. She bent over, her words shaking, "First Boone and now Riley. No. I can't… Absolutely not." She covered her face and kneeled on the floor.

"Mom, please," Riley choked, his hand ghosting over his mother.

Dean crouched down, feeling his brother loom over him and noticing Caleb physically block Buzz from interceding. It was all spiraling out of control, stuck between a woman who had lost her man and was terrified of losing her son to the same fate.

"I'm sorry. The answer is no," he placated Kathleen, directing his comment to her.

Esme reached for Kathleen's arm and brought her to standing, then brought Kathleen's head to her shoulder, walking her away from the crowd for some privacy.

When Dean turned to Riley, he saw the boy's face had flushed crimson. "I thought you were some kind of hero." He pushed away from Dean and went through the crowd unimpeded. Instead of relaxing the tension, the stress level shifted with the blame settling on Dean once more.

Dean felt like the villain. He seemed to be causing more than his share of pain to the people around him lately, and he didn't know how long that would continue. Truly, it was the people he left behind after his death he worried about. It was the ultimate loss of control. He looked around for assistance; Sam and Caleb were the sidekicks of the villain and couldn't intercede with Riley.

Bradley stepped forward from. "I'll go after him."

Dean gave him a nod, and he followed in Riley's wake. Dean couldn't look at Buzz, understanding the loss of a brother all too well. Missouri came forward, gripping Buzz's arm. "Boone used to say the only reason I wanted him to marry Kathleen was so I could be maid of honor."

Buzz grunted. "He wanted to see you all decked out in a fluffy dress."

Dean appreciated Missouri's help. He glanced at Sam, finding understanding of what it was like to lose a father because of the supernatural. He was glad there was someone who shared his distinct loss, glad he wasn't an only child. They had gotten their revenge, but at a high cost, and he wanted to spare Riley any price he'd be willing to pay.

"It's okay," Sam said.

They steered themselves closer to Bobby in a protective huddle. Bobby was one who could afford the guilt by association. He traveled between hunters of The Brotherhood and those outside of the ring bearers.

"You did right by that boy." Bobby patted Dean on the shoulder.

"He'll cool off," Caleb added. "Bradley will talk to him."

Sam and Caleb drifted off to talk to the others, but Dean remained closed off. He loosened his tie to get rid of the constriction feeling. It had only been twenty minutes, and he supposed they were required to stay longer, but he felt the weight of his own looming death. Barely able to stand the room anymore, he patted Caleb on the shoulder to interrupt his conversation with Ethan. "Let's go."

The twins gave him a pitying look, although Dean may have misinterpreted it. It could have been disappointment that their friend had died, and they had nothing to show for it but another dead man walking.

Caleb and Sam broke away from the Matthews brothers, and Dean signaled to Mac and Bobby they were leaving to head to the motel.

Dean already had his tie hanging limply in his hand by the time Joshua caught up to them outside in the gravel drive. The Impala was parked at the end to make for a quick exit if need be. His father's lessons were still a part of him to keep Sam safe.

"I need to talk to you." Joshua, in a few steps, matched their strides. Dean kept on walking to gain the sanctuary of the Impala. "The coven is concerned. They believe you have formed an alliance with a witch named Ruby."

"How do they know that?" Caleb stopped short, blocking Joshua and allowing Dean to make it to the car where he leaned against it to wait the Advisor out.

Joshua looked over Caleb's shoulder. "Is that a confirmation?"

Sam answered, trying to protect him from bringing Ruby into their limited confidences. "Yes. She's helping us."

Caleb and Joshua walked over to the car. Seemingly Caleb was allowing this interaction as The Knight. It didn't matter that Joshua was supposed to be on their side, the Advisor to The Triad, and since things were going well between Mac and Esme, his step-brother soon enough.

Joshua ignored Caleb and Sam, which was impressive because, as Dean knew, their attentions could be stifling. "Somehow I don't think a known sociopath is helping you."

"Sociopath?" Sam's voice pinched in surprise.

"What she has done, she can't be redeemed for." Where Sam's voice had gone up, Joshua's tone lowered. "She's evil — necromancy, demonology, black arts, and human sacrifices. The covens have made her Most Wanted, and they don't care who gets in the way."

Dean's hands remained splayed against the Impala's dark coat, feeling the warm of the black seep into his hands. He had been there with Josh and Esme when they had struck the deal with the coven. These were the ramifications of having dual loyalties. This is what he wanted to prevent with his brother when it came to using his powers, even with Caleb after the amulet situation.

"Jesus, Josh," Caleb sharply exhaled. "Who's talking, you or the coven?"

"Both. I am sharing information with you, trying to help." Joshua looked back at The Boonedocks.

Caleb took up his mission of defending The Triad, even though he was having to do so with one of their own advisors. "Do you share Brotherhood information with them?"

"What's there to share? Rose is on the loose?" Joshua counted with his fingers. "They know. Ruby? They know that, too. Funny, your situation put me in there, and now I'm a valued member. But that's the problem, isn't it?" Joshua raked a hand through his hair.

Caleb put his hands up. "Sorry, I stepped over the line. We're all just a little. . .tense."

Dean had remained silent. Caleb assumed Joshua was speaking about the deal he had had to make to save Caleb. Sam felt under attack because of Ruby. However, Joshua was encroaching on something that was Dean's fault. He had made the decision on who should know about his deal. He wanted to tell no one, but that wasn't possible. The Matthews brothers were the only slip up, and they did have a right to know because of Gideon. If his gut instincts were right, Ruby and Rose weren't the only things the Coven had knowledge about. "You didn't need to know."

"As your advisor I believe it would have been prudent to inform me of your impending doom."

"They told you about me. Told you I was heading to hell." Dean crossed his arms, feeling exposed. He wanted to slip away quietly with no fanfare, and that was being taken from him.

Caleb looked at him. "How the hell did they find out about that?"

"Does it really matter." Joshua's shoulders hiked up, then fell. "I can't do this anymore." He worked the silver band off his finger and thrust it, opened palm, at Dean. "Here — take it."

Dean was not taking Joshua's ring, and Joshua dropped it on the ground before turning on his heel.

Caleb reached out and caught Joshua by the arm. "Wait, Josh — Dean — he seriously is going to leave. Move to England."

Joshua tried to wrench himself away. "Get out of my head, Reaves. This doesn't concern you."

Dean clenched his fists. "I made a deal: my soul for Sam's life. It's coming due-soon."

Joshua looked down to where Caleb had his hand still clamped on his arm. "Soon?"

"A week, we have a week." Sam sidled closer to Dean.

"I don't want your ring." Dean glanced at his own ring, remembered the inscription. He wasn't ending his life on Earth by taking a ring. "And if you're mad at me, then you can get in line. Don't throw everything away because you hate me."

Joshua shook his head. "I'm supposed to be The Advisor, but instead I feel like I am some illegitimate child whose mother is having an illicit affair with The Scholar. Maybe it's better for me to go."

"You want to walk away, fine. It's your life and I'm not going to tell you how to live it." Dean jutted his chin. He would accept blame when due but wasn't accepting a guilt trip. He didn't take anything lying down; he didn't plan to take death that way either. "I left you out of it. I thought we had complicated your life enough. It was my call, and I stand by it." He was trying to protect Joshua, protect them all, and have some dignity by acting like a Guardian.

Joshua toed the ring, still on the ground. "I got a job offer in London. Maybe that would be best – I'd be out. No more coven and Brotherhood. No more responsibilities."

"Is that what you think I'm doing? Running away from my responsibilities?" Dean laughed. A year ago he would have gone on a rant because he had been saying he was tired of the hunting life when it came to having to possibly kill Sammy, and that comment would have hit close to home. "I'm going to Hell, Josh, not on vacation in Fiji. I'm sorry if you find this inconvenient and that I am not meeting the Guardian job description you created in your mind."

"I know you're not Jim."

"Jim?" Dean bent down and retrieved the silver band. He didn't want to take away a ring, but he wanted to give one, even if Pastor Jim had already done the honors. He had given back Caleb's ring to him after he was attacked, and it was Joshua's turn. "Yeah, you're right. I'm not Jim." Jim had died knowing the big picture. Dean couldn't see one. "I thought Jim had made a mistake when he gave you a ring, joined you to The Brotherhood. Jim was right. He chose you to be The Advisor, and I've always trusted his judgment."

"What about Carolyn? And Esme, and Jocelyn?" Caleb asked. Dean could see his friend was trying to fight for his extended family. Caleb may have resisted the idea of the change, accepting new people into their lives, but now he wanted to keep them.

Joshua shrugged. "It's a transatlantic flight, not the Moon. It would give them a chance to build some frequent flyer miles."

Dean was the love 'em and leave 'em type of guy, but never took Joshua as the type. He had seen what Carolyn was like after Ian, and it was the worst kept secret that Carolyn carried a torch for Josh. She would be devastated if Joshua left. He rolled his eyes at Caleb.

"Take the ring, Josh," Caleb instigated. "You know you want to. We'll even give you a nickname of your very own."

"Do you two want a private moment, Damien? I'm just saying the way you keep batting your eyelashes and now with the promises you never intend to keep. . ." Dean cocked an eyebrow.

"Shut up, Deuce — and Runt, if you dare take a picture. . ." Caleb threatened.

Sam put the cellphone in his hand back in his pocket.

Dean loved when his brother got sneaky. It was nice to see some normal teasing for a brief moment.

Joshua looked down at the open palm. He seemed to be weighing his choices. Dean spared a glance at Caleb, who he knew was reading the other hunter's mind.

Caleb exhaled. "We'll figure it out, Josh. Jim believed in miracles, and we should, too."

One week left, and if the miracle had something to do with Boone's death, then Dean didn't want it. Death was too high a price for a miracle. His father had already proven that with his funeral pyre.

Caleb had said the right words with the assistance of his abilities and Joshua slipped on the ring, closing his hand into a fist. "My mother would be upset if I gave up now."

"Yeah, sure, blame Esme," Caleb added, relief evident with a small grin. "Mama's Boy?"

"That is not the nickname I want."

"You don't get to pick the moniker," Sam snorted. "You think Runt suits me?"

"I think I prefer to be left out of the name game."

Dean wanted to acknowledge that Joshua had in fact stepped into his role as Advisor, taking his warning under consideration. "As for Ruby. . ." he started, but his brother interrupted.

"The coven wants us to hand her over, just like that?" Sam asked, rubbing a hand over his face.

"Would you?" Joshua leveled his gaze at Sam. "It's the right thing to do."

"We need her," Sam stated, glanced to Dean with a begging look. Ruby had her hooks into his brother, and with the coven there was a possible way out that Dean could count on if he couldn't take care of it himself.

"Did she tell you how she led children to their deaths?" Joshua's remark startled Sam, but he recovered even though each truth should have been a debilitating blow as Josh continued, "She marked her soul with black magic from an early age. She knew full well she would be a demon. She chose evil."

"Why?" Sam shook his head. "No one chooses evil."

Ruby hadn't given Dean the impression that demonhood was a choice. She was weaving lies, and Sam believed her. She promised him hope. Hope could be dangerous in the wrong hands. "We won't hand her over, but we won't stop anyone either." It was straddling the fence, but Dean was balancing his brother versus what he knew was the right thing to do – to rid the world of Ruby.

To be continued…