Dean was up early in the morning and was working in the garden when Caleb and Jim made it downstairs. Jim started to prepare breakfast while Caleb went out to talk to Dean, coming back in a few minutes later with a pleased expression as he told Jim that Dean had made a decision that he would accompany Caleb on the next hunt and that they would leave in a couple of days time.
The days passed swiftly and Jim was pleased to see Dean so positive about his decision at the same time as feeling sad that the young man would be leaving again so soon. He watched as Dean and Caleb researched together, bouncing ideas back and forth, jumping from clue to clue, suggestion to tangent and back. Dean was rapt, eager and enthusiastic, putting forward ideas and proposals with cautiously growing confidence. Caleb received everything with a nod and gave it time and consideration, talking round the subject with Dean thoroughly before either adding it to the 'further reflection needed' pile or discarding it as probably not relevant.
Dean seemed to grow as every one of his ideas was listened to and discussed, as his thoughts were given time for reflection even if they were then rejected. It was amazing to watch how much it meant to him to be treated as more than just a foot soldier, more than just someone to command. Caleb was still the senior hunter, still leading the hunt, but his style of leadership was so different to John's and Dean was responding visibly.
Jim figured it was a shame that Dean's self-confidence was so low, because John had clearly taught him well; what the young man knew both in facts and in terms of research skills was impressive. Caleb's style was different to John's, rather than expecting Dean to research and then repeating the research himself, he trusted Dean not to miss anything important or to highlight something that the young man thought might be significant but was unsure of, when they spoke about what they had found. Where John would read through Dean's notes and hand them back to him with comments about what he had missed or where he had followed an unnecessary line of inquiry, Caleb would listen and take the time to discuss the reasons why Dean had pursued a particular line, he would then either encourage Dean to follow it further or discuss why he thought it wasn't relevant at the time. Never did Jim hear him say, 'Because I said so,' or 'Because I know what I'm talking about,' all too familiar phrases from John's mouth.
John was used to trying to protect his sons by making sure that everything was done in the way he thought best, something that probably worked well when they were younger but as they grew older he had retained the same iron grip and firm resolve that he knew better than they did.
It wasn't long before Jim was saying goodbye to Dean and Caleb again, watching them head out on this new hunt with the promise to stay in touch and return as soon as they could.
A week passed before they returned, but yet again Jim was struck by Dean's growth. He held himself taller, more assured. He had reached the point of feeling that he could make suggestions provided he had thought through his reasoning beforehand.
The first night back found both Caleb and Dean heading to bed early exhausted and glad of a decent bed to sleep in but when the Pastor rose early the next morning Dean was already up and connected into the internet. "Doing something in particular, Dean?" Jim asked as he passed on his way to the kitchen to start breakfast.
"I – I had an idea for a hunt, something I saw a few weeks ago. I thought that maybe I could look into a bit more and see whether there was anything more to it. I could mention it to Caleb, if – well you know, if it looks like it might be real."
Jim couldn't stop the slow smile that crept across his face that Dean had felt he could take that step. "I shall leave you to it and I'll disturb you again when breakfast is ready." Dean nodded absently, his attention already back on the computer screen.
Jim listened with fascination as Dean eagerly but efficiently outlined the details he had gathered later that day, watched as Caleb nodded soberly, asking for clarification of certain points and pushing Dean into giving more detail and drawing conclusions from the evidence. Dean was completely different to the young man of those few weeks previously when John had dropped him off drunk to the point of incoherence and incapability.
When Dean had finally finished his explanation, Caleb gave him a warm smile and said, "Well it looks like we have our next hunt all lined up then, Dean. When do you think we should leave?"
Dean had looked round at the Pastor with such a look of pride mixed with disbelief, that Jim couldn't help but match Caleb's smile with a broad grin of his own. This was who Dean was supposed to be, someone who felt valued, felt intelligent, felt that he could achieve his goals. In a different world, he'd have a different future, but at least now he was able to believe in some of his own potential.
"When do you think?" Dean asked Caleb.
"This one will be your job, Dean, when do you think we should leave?"
Dean flushed in embarrassment before stammering out, "Perhaps we should rest a few days and then go. We should make sure we're fresh and that we've covered all of the angles."
The Pastor nodded, "That sounds like a great idea to me. Gives me a chance of a bit of company for a few days as well."
The days were passing swiftly and Caleb and Jim watched as Dean split his time between checking over his research and working on the Pastor's garden. "He's a natural," Caleb said one afternoon as he and Jim chatted on the porch.
"A natural?" Jim asked.
"Gardener. You watch him, he's good at it. He shouldn't have to hunt."
Jim smiled, "None of you should have to do it. And as for Dean, if you listen to Bobby he's a natural with the cars as well."
There was silence for a while, before Caleb spoke again, "Makes you wonder what he would have been if he'd ever really had a choice, if he'd been given the chances he deserved."
"I think, knowing Dean, he'd have picked something that would have let him help people. He's a good boy and I don't think that comes from just the difficult situations he's been in or from needing to look after his brother. I think it's innate, a part of him nothing could eradicate, not even the evil that has pursued his family for so long."
"He's cleverer than he lets on," Caleb added.
"What next? Are you and he going to carry on hunting together?"
Caleb shrugged, "I'm happy to do so. It certainly helps having someone reliable with you to watch your back and it doesn't half cut down on the research when there's two of you to do it. Plus he's good, looks at things in a different way. I'm not so old that I can't stand to learn a few new tricks and he's always willing to listen and learn like I'm some kind of expert, which does my ego the world of good too."
"You are some kind of expert!" Jim laughed. "I'm pleased you think that anyway. The change in him over these last few weeks is astounding. It would be great if the two of you could stay together a while longer, long enough that when he next faces John he's got enough confidence to stand up for himself and with luck long enough for John to see how good he really is."
The phone rang in the house and the Pastor stood to head in and answer it, leaving Caleb alone on the porch. He stood up to lean on the porch railing and called out to Dean, "How's it going, lad?"
Dean looked up and wiped the back of one dirty hand across his forehead, leaving a smear of mud. "Well, it would go a lot easier if you two stopped gossiping like old women and actually leant a hand over here," he smirked.
Caleb laughed easily as he replied, "Nah, it's much more fun to watch you working when we can put our feet up and watch rather than joining you." Caleb stepped back, sat down again and swung his feet up to rest on the railing as if to emphasize the point.
Dean picked up the bottle of water he kept nearby and took a long swig as he walked back across the garden, coming to lean on the other side of the railing with a grin. "Maybe I should come and sit down there and keep you company."
"Sounds like a good idea to me." Caleb let his feet drop back to the porch decking so Dean could pass and reach one of the empty seats.
Dean was just settling back into the chair, when the Pastor appeared at the back door, his face grim. "Dean, your father is on the phone. He's asked if you would speak to him. Do you want to take the call?"
Dean sighed and pushed himself up to standing. "Yeah, I'll take it," he said wearily. He passed the Pastor, his head down, eyes on the floor as he moved towards the phone.
Jim shook his head in sorrow as he pulled the door closed behind him and headed to sit down beside Caleb again. "He's sober, coherent and civil. I couldn't really deny him that, no matter how much I wanted to."
"Jim, no matter what we think, Dean has to make his own choices, otherwise we're not treating him any better than his father has in the past. We can hope that he has learnt enough to stand him in good stead and we can make sure he knows we're only ever a phone call away. That is our job, no matter what we may want to do for him." Caleb's words were grim but true, the Pastor reflected.
A few minutes later, Dean reappeared at the door, his attention immediately falling to Caleb. "Dad would like to speak to you," he murmured quietly as Caleb cast a worried look in his direction. "He's wondering if you could drop me off where he's working . . . just . . . just he's got a two-man hunt and he – he needs me to give him a hand." Neither Caleb nor Jim could fail to notice the lack of expression in Dean's voice or the way the light in his eyes had died. Caleb nodded and went inside.
Dean headed towards the steps to the garden when Jim stopped him, "Dean, what are you doing?"
"I'm just going to tidy up the garden tools and then I'll go and wash up and pack my stuff ready to leave. Dad's pretty adamant that he needs the help quickly." Dean's voice was carefully neutral.
Jim leant forward trying to catch Dean's eyes, which were deliberately focused on the far reaches of the garden. "Dean, I can speak to your father, give him the names of some other available hunters. You don't have to go on this hunt if you don't want to."
"He needs me. I've been away long enough, I have a lot to make up for."
Jim sighed, "No Dean, you don't have anything to make up for. You have been working with Caleb. You and Caleb have a hunt planned; you do not have to abandon that just to appease John."
"I have to go to him, sir," Dean's tone left no room for argument, but just to be certain of making his point Dean turned and headed down the steps and across the garden to pick up the dropped tools from earlier. It only took a couple of minutes to pack away and then Dean headed into the house to shower, change and pack ready to leave. He heard Caleb raise his voice, his tone short and irritated, a few times during the conversation with his father and wondered whether that meant he'd need to be finding a different way to get to his father. Maybe Caleb was refusing to drop everything to do John's bidding, in his heart Dean couldn't blame him.
Once his bag was packed, he headed back outside to the Pastor, sitting down quietly alongside the older man. Not a word was spoken at first and Dean allowed his eyes to drift over the garden, over the land he had been working on and the difference he had made. He chewed nervously on his lip as Caleb did not return. He jumped when Jim's hand patted his shoulder, "Just be sure of what you want, Dean. Don't worry about Caleb and John."
His eyes dropped to the ground in front of him and he began to chew on the side of his finger. "He needs me," he murmured a few moments later. Jim shook his head but didn't say a word, just squeezed the hand resting on Dean's shoulder, hoping he would be able to pick up the support and strength he needed. Words would only make things more difficult, make his decision more unrealistic. Jim knew that Dean could not go against John's wishes and making him think he should would only add to his confused feelings.
"You do what you need to do. Caleb and I will always have your back, remember that." Jim was relieved to see Dean nod acceptance of his words.
"You think Caleb will give me a lift there?" he asked hesitantly, his eyes flicking to the door anxiously. "Maybe I should . . ."
Jim cut him off shortly, "Caleb will definitely give you a lift there." Seeing the anxious flicker of Dean's gaze back to the door again, he continued, "Caleb can argue with your Dad, he can say what he thinks. Whatever happens between him and your Dad will not change what he thinks of you. Caleb's been hunting longer than your Dad, he's a good man. If when you've finished this job with your Dad you feel that you'd like to spend some more time with Caleb, I know he'd be glad to have your company and your support. He's a good person to learn from, Dean. His skills, his way of working . . . they're different to your Dad's."
"Dad used to say he was good. It – it wasn't what he said today," Dean admitted reluctantly.
"Dean, today it's not in your Dad's interests for Caleb to be good enough for you, because he wants you with him. You understand that. Your Dad is a good hunter, but his way of working is very different to Caleb's. Your Dad has trained you since you were a child, protected you, but he forgets that you are no longer a child; you are old enough and well-trained enough to be listened to, old enough to understand and have opinions. He still loves you and cares for you and he wants nothing more than to protect you, but he forgets you're a man now, not a child. Parents do that and when they do it's up to the grown children to show them the way to let go."
"You don't think it's . . ." Dean sighed, eyes closing briefly.
"You. . . is that what you were going to ask? I don't think it's you Dean, not at all. All parents do it, find it hard to let go, want their children to stay young enough to protect and guide."
"I have to do this with him. I have to try and show him, right? Show him he can trust me. Make him believe I didn't let him down with Sammy."
"You only have to do it, if it's what you want to do. . ." Jim left the rest unspoken.
Dean nodded and said firmly, "Then I have to do it."
Caleb agreed to take Dean to the motel where he was to meet John, but he refused to leave before morning. The three men had a quiet meal, each lost in their own thoughts and concerned about what the immediate future would hold.
When they left early the following morning, Jim was there to see them off and he could not let them leave without reminding Dean again that there was always shelter to be found under his roof and that he was only ever a phone call away. Dean promised to always remember that before climbing into the passenger side of Caleb's truck.
Caleb and Dean barely spoke for the first hour of the journey, only occasional comments about the best route to travel or the amount of traffic on the road, leaving Dean time to think again over what he was going to do when he reached his father and how he was going to show him that he was not only back on track but stronger and better with it. He had learned in the time they'd been apart, taken on board all the teaching and guidance that Caleb had offered.
It was Dean who broke the silence, "Caleb." He waited for the older man to acknowledge him before he continued, "I just wanted to say thanks for everything over the last few weeks. It's been really good. I've learnt a lot and you've been really good to me."
"Dean," Caleb sighed, "From my point of view, the last few weeks have been really good too. It's been a long time since I've hunted with anyone so regularly, in particular someone I could rely on, someone I could share the load with." He paused for a moment, hping that Dean would take on board the praise before continuing, "I figured I might stick around for this hunt with you and your Dad and then after, if you wanted, we could go do that hunt we had planned."
"Really?" Dean sounded astonished.
"Really, Dean. It's a two-man job, so unless you want to do it with your Dad, I'd be happy to stick with you to do it."
"That – I think that would be good." Dean nodded, a small contented smile on his face.
They arrived at John's motel late that evening, both of them weary and ready for something to eat. As the truck pulled to a stop, John came out of his room to greet them. "Caleb, Dean, it's good to see you both." His eyes surveyed his son thoughtfully, before he added, "You're looking much better, son," as he moved across to give his son a warm embrace. He turned his attention to Caleb, "Thank you for taking care of him," he said as he offered his hand.
"In as much as I've taken care of him, it's been a pleasure. In reality, he's done plenty of looking after me as we've gone along. He's been a real asset to the hunts I've been doing over the last few weeks."
"Good. Well, Dean, it's time you said goodbye and thanks, we need to hurry if I'm going to debrief you thoroughly in time for the hunt tonight."
"But Dad, Caleb's . . ." Dean started, only to have his Dad's hand held up to silence him.
"You heard me, Dean. Thank Caleb and then get inside so we can get on the road!" John's words were peremptory.
It was Caleb who interrupted before John could go on any further. "John, I'm intending staying for the hunt, I figured another pair of hands would not go amiss and Dean and I have a hunt planned that we'll be heading to, once we're done helping you. We've delayed it so that Dean can be here to help you and it makes sense for me to stay too and offer my assistance."
"We'll be fine and I'm sure you can find someone else to give you a hand on your hunt," John stated.
"It's Dean's hunt," Caleb was calm but firm as he spoke, "It is not my place to be finding someone else to do it; that would be his choice."
John looked ready to explode with fury, "Dean's hunt! What do you mean Dean's hunt? He's a boy! He isn't old enough to have a hunt! He needs to be able to follow orders and learn from the experience of others."
Dean spoke quietly, "I've been learning Dad, from you and from Pastor Jim and Caleb. I've researched a hunt and Caleb has – has looked through the research with me and offered to help me carry out. I've talked through everything I found with him and with Pastor Jim, I've been using their advice and their experience to plan the hunt. Caleb thinks that it would be okay."
"Dean! You are just a boy, you might have done well, I'm sure you have done well, but you do not have the maturity to take on a hunt or to have other people relying on you for their safety. I know you mean well, but you are too young to understand this, experience will show you that I'm right."
Caleb snorted in disgust, "Do you honestly think that I would be willing to go on this hunt if he hadn't done the research properly, if he hadn't got a solid plan? You're the one being a fool, John. I'm sure once your hunt is done that we could then spare the time for Dean to show you all his research. Perhaps that would put your mind at rest."
Dean turned and walked silently into his father's motel room, leaving the two men outside arguing. He'd known all along that his father wouldn't listen, didn't know why he'd pretended to himself that he and Caleb would move on together after this hunt. He dropped his bag on the empty bed and opened the zip to fish out the information about the hunt he had planned. He gave it a longing look, before placing it down on the bed and returning to rummaging through the bag for the gear he would need to wear for a tramp through the woods tonight. It didn't leave him a lot of time to get up to date on his Dad's hunt. As soon as he was changed, he moved to the table where John's research was laid out and he began to read through the information to work out what was going on.
By the time John came into the room, followed by Caleb Dean was engrossed in the information before him. He looked up when he heard his name. "Dean, Caleb is staying like he says an extra pair of hands will come in handy, you'd better move over so I can explain the plan to you both quickly or we'll never be ready in time."
"Dad, I've read it and, well most of it, but there's some stuff missing . . . we shouldn't go in tonight, we haven't considered all of the options yet."
"Are you trying to be smart?" Dean grimaced and looked down in embarrassment. He should have known better, it wasn't Caleb he was dealing with now, this was his father and John. . . well he should known that blurting that out wouldn't work. "If you are capable of sitting and listening then I can explain what the plan is."
Caleb sat down alongside Dean, a gentle pat to the younger man's shoulder went unnoticed by his father as John launched into the details of his plan and what he would expect of Dean. Caleb watched John and Dean with equal interest, seeing the difference in Dean's reactions and how he didn't question or suggest anything, but Caleb was watching close enough to see the slight tightening of Dean's eyes, the fractional wince or grimace each time he disagreed with his father's plan. When John had finished, Caleb suggested that they take an extra day with the three of them looking further into the research to make sure all the bases had been covered. It took far longer than it should have to convince John of the value in that.
Caleb watched as Dean's confidence vanished quicker than it had grown. Each suggestion Dean made was shot down without consideration, he was over-ruled at every turn without question. Caleb did his best to support Dean's questions and suggestions, but with Dean backing off quicker than he could offer his support, it was a difficult evening.
The one thing Caleb was sure of was that he had done the right thing by saying he would stay for the hunt. Dean needed someone to help him believe in himself and John wasn't ready to be that person yet.
Author's Note : - This story ends here without going into the details of the hunt in question. The reason for that is that I have another story underway which will outline some of the events of this hunt by way of memories and I don't want to spoil that story!