The Thing With Wings

By: Ridley C. James

Beta: Tidia

A/N: There are lots of things I'd like to say about the story about season four, but I think I'll just wait until the end. This story wraps up a story arc Tidia and I started nine months ago with To The Victor. Can you believe it? We've been posting consecutively since April??? I'm so glad you all are still reading and I hope the wait will have been worth it.

RCJ

"Civilization rests on a set of promises; if the promises are broken too often, the civilization dies, no matter how rich it may be, or how mechanically clever. Hope and faith depend on the promises; if hope and faith go, everything goes." –

Herbert Agar

"It's been almost four months, Mackland." Bobby Singer perched on the edge of Mac's desk, staring at his friend.

The doctor didn't look up, continuing to jot notes in a file. "There is no time limit on grief, Bobby"

"Grief?" Bobby picked up a framed picture of Mac, Jim, John and the boys. Bobby remembered taking it. "That's what you're calling this?"

Mackland carefully placed the file on the oak desk before lifting his solemn gray gaze. "Of course. They've lost a brother. What else would you call it?"

Bobby set down the photograph to study his old friend. The months hadn't been kind to The Scholar. Having lost Dean and his relationship with Esme, he'd become almost as shut off as the boys. "Madness comes to mind."

Mackland removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes. "I hear they're hunting again. That says something."

"Hunting?" Bobby stood, paced across the floor. He wondered at the skewed perspective of Mackland's intricate network of spies . "Damn, Mac, they're on a killing spree. Like a couple of rabid wolves."

"They haven't hurt any innocents."

"They haven't helped many either." Bobby turned away from the window to face the doctor again. He understood what loss did to a person, had experienced his own descent into that particular darkness. Losing Jim then John had pushed him close to that ledge again, Dean's death nearly enough to send him plunging over once more. He'd spent more than one night lost in the bottom of a bottle. "Other hunters are getting nervous. Even our friends. Whatever inroads you made, the boys are quickly cutting off."

Mackland placed his glasses on the desk. "You've been talking to Ethan."

"He's tried to talk to Caleb."

"I appreciate that but you and I both know their experiences are not the same. Gideon isn't…"

"In Hell," Bobby finished. That was the part that none of them could get past. There were no reassurances that Dean was in a better place.

Mackland picked up another file, putting his glasses back on. "Yes." He pulled out some papers. "Sam and Caleb are merely trying to come to terms with that."

"They're still trying to find a way out. Neither one of them will call me back, and they're conveniently not at home when I show up. Tricky work sneaking up on two goddamn psychics, but I have my sources, too." Ellen was managing The Boonedocks for Kathleen. Hunters talked. Ellen was really good at listening. "I know what those boys are up to. I've seen them on a quest to help Dean before. It's not pretty. It's spiraling out of their control. I'm afraid of what they might do next."

"We can't ask them to stop looking." Mackland glanced at him. "I can't expect them to give up hope."

"Now you sound like Jim," Bobby growled. "What Sam and Caleb are doing has nothing to do with hope. It has everything to do with vengeance. Jim would not excuse what they're doing. What happened to his big plan for the next Triad?"

"I'm not Jim. I don't have an answer for everything."

The mechanic took the chair by the desk with a heavy sigh. He rested his hands on his knees, studying the floor for a long moment as Mackland continued to prowl through his damn files. "You ever think Jim bet the whole farm on Dean?"

"What?"

Bobby looked up. "The pastor was smart, he understood exactly what he had to gain and what he had to lose by backing the men he chose for The Triad."

Mackland smacked the folder on the desk, shooting a harsh glare to the other hunter. Bobby was relieved to see some emotion, even if it was anger directed at him. "Are you insinuating that Sam and Caleb were the wrong choices?"

"Hell no." Bobby rubbed his beard. "I'm saying that Dean grounded them. That Jim counted on Dean balancing them out."

"You're blowing this out of proportion." Mackland shook his head. "They'll be fine. They just need time. We all do"

"They're not fine, Mac, and time is running out."

"It's only been…"

"Four months. I know." Bobby met Mackland's gaze. "It might as well have been four hours to them."

"What would you have me do?" Mackland shoved away from his desk. "Would you have me turn to plan B - Ethan as Knight? Elijah as The Scholar? And what will become of Sam and Caleb then? Are we going to allow open season? Because you and I both know that is a very real possibility."

Bobby sat up. He hadn't considered such drastic measures. "No. I would never want that."

"Don't look at me that way." Mackland stood, beginning a slow pace behind his chair. "It's not something I could ever carry out."

"But others might."

Bobby didn't miss the way Mackland's jaw clenched. "Griffin called me this morning. With the recent surge of demonic activity, he and his faction are concerned about the future of The Brotherhood."

"Fuck him, Mac."

The doctor stopped, his gaze resting on Bobby. "He raised some of the same issues as you. It seems Sam and Caleb cleared house at a local bar last night. It was a front for a nest of vampires, but the things they did…"

Bobby swallowed thickly. "It's the nature of the beast."

"Excuse me."

"You can't train a dog to attack, to kill, and then expect it not to fall back on those instincts when it's hurt or cornered." Bobby ran a hand over his mouth. "Then you have to consider their breed. Some dogs are fiercer than others. Killing comes natural…"

"We are not talking about dogs, Bobby!" Mackland slammed his hands down on his desk. "For God's sake we're talking about our family. Samuel and Caleb."

"That's why I'm here, Mac. " Bobby took a step closer to The Scholar. "We need to pull them back in, tighten the leash, before it's too late."

Mackland gripped the back of his leather chair, leaning against the support with a heavy sigh. "I know, damn it. I know."

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Boo was barking. Caleb lifted the pillow from his face and glared at the Retriever mix hovering by his bed, lips pulled back in an insufferable grin. "Goddamn it, Boo. Go bother Sam for your breakfast. Leave me the hell alone."

The dog ran to the foot of the bed and back to Caleb. He continued to whine, pawing at the sheets when Caleb tried to cover his head once more. "You're a pain in my ass, you know that."

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you." Mackland moved to the head of the mattress, finding little satisfaction in the fact his plan to surprise his son was successful.

Caleb threw the covers aside with a groan. "You ever heard of calling before you come, Mac?"

Mackland tossed the strand of snowflake obsidian on the nightstand. "The farm has never been that kind of place, Son. Family was always welcome here."

"Well, Sam and I own it now. So, maybe there's a new set of rules." Caleb sat up, ran his fingers through his long hair. "Why are you here?"

Mackland studied Caleb closer. His son had lost weight and that was only the beginning of the changes. The long hair Mackland had at one time missed was back, along with a slight beard that gave Caleb a dark, menacing look he did not need. The slight smudges and lines beneath his flat, emotionless gold gaze lent enough reason to be wary. "I came to check in on you and Sam."

"Check up on us you mean." Caleb set his feet on the floor, but didn't get up. "Sam and I are just fine."

"I've given you both space…time." Mackland was beginning to see the distance had been as much a self-imposed exile as a respectful mourning time for the boys. He should have been more diligent.

"And what?" Caleb stood grabbing his jeans from the floor. He jerked them on. "The Scholar wants us back on the job?"

"I've heard you've already returned to work." Mackland looked around the room, surprised his son was sleeping in Pastor Jim's old bed, and not his own. A crossbow sat in the corner, along with a machete and broad sword. "Or is it something different?"

"Bobby come talk to you?" Caleb sniffed at a black t-shirt before sliding it over his head. "Or was it one of the Mathews doing their good deed for the day?"

"You have many eyes on you these days, Caleb."

"Right." Caleb snorted. "Because we're The Triad." He shook his head. "Only problem is, Dad, you kind of need three people to have one of those, hence the 'Tri' prefix."

"That's why I'm here."

Caleb picked up one boot, forgetting its mate as he stood to face his father. "Oh, we are not having that conversation, Mac."

"Yes we are, Caleb!" Mackland snapped. He was upset his son insisted on reverting to using his name and it irritated him that Caleb knew all his buttons to push. Boo jumped up on Caleb's bed with a loud whine. The doctor took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "It's time to discuss appointing a new Guardian. We must provide a united front and formulate a plan to deal with the demon faction."

"The hell you say."

"Dean is gone."

"You think I've missed that point?" Caleb brought his clenched fist to his chest. "It's driven home every fucking day."

Mackland moved towards his son. "He wouldn't want this, Son. You have to know that."

"Really?" Caleb stepped toe to toe with his father. "You think you know what Deuce wants? What he's feeling right now?"

"Son…"

"No, you opened this can of worms." Caleb poked a finger towards his chest. "Tell me great and wise Scholar what's Dean feeling? You think he's worried about Brotherhood business while he's being tortured? You think maybe he's wondering how Sammy and I are spending our free time while he's suffering agony you and I cannot even begin to fathom? Maybe he even thinks about the Sox when he's begging for the bastards to finish him off."

Mackland lashed out, backhanding his son across the face. The slap resounded with a crack, snapping Caleb's head back. Boo leapt to his feet, the hair on his back stood on end, growling. "That's enough."

Caleb brought his hand to his mouth, a twisted smile touching his face. "You've wanted to do that for a while now."

Mackland felt sick. He'd never struck his son, but Caleb's reaction had him feeling the perverse urge to do it again. Lucky for them both, Sam suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking bedraggled and half asleep. "Caleb?"

"It's okay, Sammy. Go back to bed."

Sam looked confused. He glanced at Mackland. "Is everything okay? I felt…"

"Dad just dropped in for a little tough love intervention." Caleb touched his lip again. "Right, Mac?"

Mackland moved his gaze to Sam. The boy looked as bad as Caleb. His hair was also longer and his face was bruised. "I'm here on official business, Sam. Why don't you go get cleaned up and meet us downstairs in the kitchen? We need to have a talk."

The doctor didn't miss the fact that Sam sought out Caleb's gaze. Mackland wondered if they were sharing some silent communication. He supposed the only good thing to come from their recent tragedy is that it sealed the bond between Knight and Scholar.

"Alright," Sam said. Only he was looking at Caleb, not Mackland.

Mackland ignored the sudden need to explain he was the current Scholar, still in charge. Bobby was right. In his own grief, he had let things go too far. Mackland hardened his voice. "Start breakfast, Sam. Make some strong coffee."

"It's okay." Caleb's smile was more genuine as he looked at the other hunter. "Take Boo with you. Mac and I need to clear up a few things."

Sam called the dog and left the room. Mackland gestured to where the boy had stood. "He doesn't look good."

Caleb's smile disappeared. "Are you saying I'm not taking care of him?"

"No." Mackland sighed. How had they gotten to this point where he no longer could have a normal conversation with his son? He couldn't help but to think that Caleb held him responsible. Mackland felt responsible. "I know you're watching out for him. This is an impossible situation."

"He lost his brother. You can't expect him to be happy go lucky."

"I expect better than what's taking place." Mackland held his son's gaze. "From both of you. And so would Dean."

"Don't talk about him. Don't speak his name." Caleb's eyes hardened, his voice sharp. "Just drop it before we both do something we regret."

Mackland was caught off guard by the acidic tone, but quickly covered. Years of dealing with John Winchester had not been for naught. "I can't drop it. I made a promise to Dean, and now I'm going to follow through with it." Mackland raised a brow. "You understand that, right. You made him promises, too. To watch out for Sam, to take care of the farm?"

Caleb looked away.

Mackland grabbed his arm. "In case you've forgotten, I'm not just The Scholar, I'm your father."

Caleb sighed. "Say what you need to."

Mackland released his son as he reached for the letter in the inside pocket of his jacket. "I don't have to say anything. Dean will do it for me." He handed Caleb the envelope. "Dean wrote this the day his deal came due. Sam also has one. Dean asked that I give you both some time and when I thought it was right to deliver them."

"No." Caleb stepped back, a wealth of emotion flooding his eyes along with a wash of moisture. "I don't want it."

Mackland's chest clenched at the childlike tone, the way Caleb shied away from the letter as if it were an instrument of torture. All his anger fled, replaced by a deep ache, a gut-twisting desire to make it all better. "Son, he's giving you one more moment with him. Can you seriously deny that?"

Caleb shook his head. "Why?"

Mackland felt the weight of that word, unsure of its intended reference. He offered the letter again. "Let Dean explain. Please."

Caleb finally reached out, his hand trembled. "Just like Deuce to find a way to haunt me."

The doctor grinned at the small glimpse of the Caleb he knew, the one still buried beneath the months of grief. "He was tempted to make a video, but was afraid it would 'seriously freak you and Sam out'."

Caleb took the envelope, traced his fingers over the familiar handwriting. One word. Damien. He looked at Mackland. "Dad, I'm not sure I can do this."

"Of course you can." Mackland gestured to the small area off the bedroom which served as Jim's study. "I'll be here if you need me." He waited until Caleb sat down on the bed before heading to Jim's desk by the balcony windows. Easing into the old leather chair, Mackland let his gaze rest on the pastor's Bible before closing his eyes, relishing in the warm early morning sun. "The boys could use a miracle, Jim," he whispered. "We all could."

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Caleb sat down on the bed, waiting for his father to give him space before he carefully opened the envelope. Two things fell out. The first was a crinkled piece of construction paper with aluminum foil edges. BBB: Badge of Merit was written across the front. The other was a plastic sealed Roger Clemens baseball card.

Caleb felt his eyes burn, his throat constrict. "Goddamnit, Deuce." He picked up the handmade Wolf Cub badge, smiling at Sammy's crude crayon rendition of a wolf before placing it and the Roger Clemens card off to the side. Caleb pulled out the letter and carefully unfolded it with Dean's small, neat script sweeping across the page.

Damien,

Stop your brooding, man. It's time to get over it. Get on with the whole 'Musketeer' gig you live for. Do you think d'Artagnan threw down his sword when one of his brothers fell? Hell no. He got back up on his horse, put that gay tunic thing on and kicked some medieval ass. I wouldn't expect anything less from his number one groupie. If Dad were there he'd kick your ass, Sammy's too. Take this as an official John Winchester order in his stead. 'Suck it up, soldier!'

You helped put me back together after Mom. I know you can do the same for Sammy. I'm counting on it. As for who's going to take care of you…well, I'm placing my bet on Jim. The pastor's still around. And so am I. If you need us, go to the pond. I know water isn't your thing, but trust me on this. I'm closer than you think.

Caleb swallowed thickly as images of the last time he'd been to the pond flooded his thoughts. He and Sam had pulled the boat back to shore, the moon illuminating Dean's torn, bloodied body. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the images from his mind as he tried to refocus on the blurring lines of Dean's letter.

The Clemens card was always my favorite, not just because of the Sox or the fact Jim gave it to me, but because you remembered why it was important and made up that lame ass excuse as to why you didn't sell it when I asked you to. You always remembered what was important, even when everybody else forgot.

I remember everything you did for me. You did save me, Caleb. I know what you're thinking, man. And you're wrong. You never let me down. And you didn't lose me. Memories are kind of like your bridges, they can span earth and time. They'll hold us together. I'm counting on them to keep you together. I need you to keep it together. For The Brotherhood. For Mac. And most of all for Sammy.

I left him my baby. But the Impala wasn't the most important thing I had. It's Sam, Caleb. I left you what meant the most to me. You understand that. I hate like hell you might have suffered because of it, but I know you get. You always got it. Only a big brother could understand. You earned that Best Big Brother badge long before I did. Any guy would have been damn lucky to have you as a brother. I'm glad the stars worked in my favor, I scored the privilege.

I love you, Damien. And having just written that incriminating chick statement, I order you as my last act as Guardian to burn this bitch after you're done. No crying over it at midnight on my birthdays and shit. You're not going to be John Winchester. Understand me? Now go get Sammy. You two go out, have a beer for me. Sleep with a hot chick, hell, maybe two. Carry on, men.

Deuce

Caleb didn't know how long he stayed there, holding the letter, rereading the words as he tried to absorb Dean's essence from them. Since Dean's death, it was one of the things that bothered him most. He didn't feel Dean. There was a phantom ache, like losing a limb.

His father's touch had him blinking back hot tears. "Son, are you okay?"

Caleb held up the letter. "Can you sense him?"

"What?"

Caleb cleared his throat. "When you touch the letter does your ability give you any sensations? Anything I could pick up from you?"

Caleb watched his Dad kneel in front of him, moving his hands from Caleb's shoulders, to rest on his knees. "No. You know I usually have to use items that have a strong sentimental value…"

"How about this?" Caleb shoved the card towards his father. "Deuce loved this card."

Mackland didn't take the card, but placed his hand over Caleb's. "As far as my senses are concerned, Dean is gone. It's like a…"

"Black hole." Caleb finished for Mac, pulling his hand from his father's touch. "A fucking abyss."

Mackland took a seat on the bed beside Caleb. "Son, I understand what you're going through, but it's time to snap out of it."

"No. You don't understand." Caleb carefully straightened the foiled edges of Wolf Cub badge. "For twenty years it's been my job to protect him. It seems like my whole life. And now…he's somewhere I can't help him, and he's hurting…and I can't even connect with him. There's nothing I wouldn't give to change that."

"But you can't change it. You and Sam can kill all the demons, vampires, other monsters, hurt yourselves in the process, but it will still not change the fact you are helpless to change Dean's situation."

Caleb stood, making his way to the nightstand by Pastor Jim's bed. He opened the drawer, placing the construction paper and Clemens card beside the brass compass. "Is this supposed to be some kind of Scholarly pep talk, because it sucks."

"No. This is one of those father things, the kind that hurts me as much as it does you."

"I can't let him go." Caleb looked down at the letter. Dean ordered him to burn it. Instead he folded it and slid it into his back pocket. "I won't."

"He's already gone, Caleb."

Caleb slammed the drawer shut, shaking the lamp on top. "You can't expect us to just get over it!" He turned on his father. "It doesn't work that way."

Mackland stood, took a faltering step closer to his son. "I expect that you and Samuel will never get over losing Dean, but I, as well as the rest of The Brotherhood, need you to move past it."

Caleb raised his hands, warding off his Dad's advancement. "Fuck The Brotherhood…"

"You don't mean that."

Caleb laughed. "Don't be so sure. Things have changed. I've changed."

Mackland closed the distance between them, gripping Caleb's arms. "Dean wouldn't accept that answer. He knew what his sacrifice would cost, just as he knew what this would do to you and Samuel. He and I had one of these same kinds of talks. Dean wanted to spare your suffering, change how hard it would be for you-save you and Sammy from your own version of Hell. But he couldn't. He had to accept it, and move on. Just as the rest of us have to go on."

"I miss him. I miss him so damn much."

Mackland gripped him harder. "I miss him, too. I loved him. And because I loved him, I'm going to do my best to honor everything he lived for-died for."

Caleb tried to pull back. "But I'm not you, Dad. Maybe I'm just not that good of a man."

Mackland held on. "I know what kind of man you are. So did Dean."

Caleb dropped his chin to his chest. "I don't know what to do…to stop feeling this way."

Mackland pulled him closer and Caleb didn't have any strength left to fight him. He felt his father's arms come around him, holding him as if he were a child again. He took solace for a moment, desperate for the connection. Caleb hadn't touched anyone except the occasional hook-up since lifting Dean's cooling body from the boat, helping Sammy put Dean in that fucking wooden box. The memory of his best friend's blood on his hands gave him the power to pull back. He rubbed his eyes. "You said he left a letter for Sammy, too?"

Mackland sighed. "Yes."

"Can I give it to him?"

"If you think that would be best."

Caleb nodded. Taking care of Sam was the only thing he felt he had gotten right since Dean's death. He promised Deuce he wouldn't let anything happen to the kid. Sam was his responsibility now. "I do."

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Sam's cell phone vibrated as he finished topping off Boo and Harper Lee's bowls. He straightened, stiff muscles protesting the quick movement. The name Kristy flashed on the caller ID. Sam shot a quick glance towards the stairs before stepping outside onto the porch. "Ruby."

He avoided the bruise on his cheek, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he listened to the annoyed voice on the other end. "I know I was supposed to meet you last night, but Caleb and I had to deal with something."

Sam took a seat on the railing, giving him a direct view of the fields behind the farm house. The trees were beginning to turn, and a slight chill was in the air. He took a deep breath, really not in the mood to argue or explain himself to Ruby. "We got a last minute tip and I couldn't leave him without any backup."

Ruby's reply was not unexpected, but still tore at Sam's reserves of patience. She thought it was time Sam cut Caleb loose to focus completely on their new game plan. "That's not going to happen."

Ruby countered with the same point she'd been stressing since last month when Sam had strolled into a trap laid by Lilith's henchmen. They had gotten the upper hand on him. Ruby had saved both their asses. "It's getting better. The last one went off without a hitch."

Sam let his gaze travel to the pond and beyond to the biggest oak in the distance. The site of it conjured an ache of longing. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, I need to go. Mackland's here." The last thing he needed was for The Scholar to realize Ruby was back from Hell, courtesy of Lilith herself.

He stood, turning his back to the scenery, staring at the Boo-sized tear in the screen as he continued to endure the one-sided argument. Sam had told Dean's he'd fix the hole. Of course, he'd broken much more important promises. "It's not like that." Sam sighed as Ruby notched up the guilt. "This comes first. I'll call you later when we can get together."

Sam disconnected the phone without waiting for a reply. He re-entered the kitchen just as Mackland descended the stairs on the far-side of the room. Sam held up his phone, gesturing to the coffee pot. "Sorry, I had a call before I could get the brew started."

"It's okay." Mackland waved him off, retrieving the filters from the top cabinet. "Anything important?"

Sam looked at the phone in his hand and then back to the doctor. "Just some information on a hunt Caleb and I have been looking into."

Mackland turned on the water, filling the glass pot. "You two have been staying busy?"

"Yeah." Sam headed to the refrigerator for eggs and butter. "You know how it is."

"I'm sorry I haven't made it a point to keep in touch."

Sam chose to focus on breakfast in lieu of meeting The Scholar's gaze. He grabbed a skillet and spoon. "No big deal." Mackland had left him several messages in those first couple of weeks before Sam had disconnected his old phone. Sam had grown tired of erasing voice mails from Bobby and Elijah also. He was beginning to understand his father's reclusive behavior a little more every day. He wanted to destroy Lilith, but he didn't want to put anyone else in danger, especially Caleb, Mac or Bobby.

"I think I did you and Caleb a great disservice by not forcing the issue sooner."

Sam took a bowl from the drainer for the eggs, cracking half a dozen before discarding the empty container. He figured Mackland had done him a favor. "What issue?"

The first month after Dean, Sam and Caleb barely communicated with each other let alone the outside world. They talked only about their next plan, recovering from each subsequent failure by individual vices. For Sam it was lots and lots of alcohol. Then Ruby showed up offering a different kind of escape.

"The Guardian issue."

Sam turned on the stove, scooping a heaping of butter into the skillet before placing it on the burner. Caleb and he both knew this moment would be coming, still it sent a fresh wave of pain rocking through Sam. He studied his bruised knuckles for a long moment before finally turning to Mac. "You said we had time." Dean had only been gone four months. There was still a chance to get him back, especially if Sam's talents continued to manifest as Ruby promised.

"Time has come and gone. The moment to reclaim some ground is upon us."

Sam turned, taking a metal whisk from the ceramic carafe on the stove. "What did Caleb say?" Sam and Caleb had immersed themselves in researching Triad power after Dean's death only to come to the realization that without an intact traditional Triad, there was no power. Looking within The Brotherhood for answers was like putting the cart before the horse. No Dean-No Triad. No Triad-No getting Dean back.

"He's upset, understandably so."

Sam bit his lip. When he'd told Caleb what Dean had said about Elijah, the older psychic went ape-shit. Sam imagined using 'upset' to describe The Knight's reaction was far off the mark, Mackland might have well have said his son was slightly perplexed by the idea of Dean rotting in Hell.

The doctor seemed to glean Sam's thoughts. "He's going to have to accept the idea. So are you."

Sam poured the eggs into the melted butter, letting them sizzle for a moment before moving them around with a spatula. "I never wanted to be The Scholar in the first place."

Mackland reached over and turned the flame down. "What does that mean?"

Sam continued to scramble the eggs. "It means that I don't care what we do, what you tell us to do. It doesn't matter anymore."

"It mattered to Dean."

Sam roughly whipped the eggs around. "Are you kidding me? Dean could have cared less about being The Guardian. That was all you, Jim and Dad."

"In the beginning, perhaps," Mackland said. "But in the end your brother was accepting of his role. He wanted to serve."

"What good did it do him?" Sam slammed the spatula down, shoving the skillet off the burner "God. He did what you people asked, what Jim wanted and look where he ended up!"

"Samuel…"

Sam stepped away from Mackland and the stove, ran both hands through his hair. He had seen his brother change over the last year, watched as he gained confidence in himself. Dean started to realize on a small scale just what everyone else, including Sam, had known all along. Dean was capable of great things. Dean started to believe his life meant something besides being Sammy's nursemaid and John Winchester's doormat. It made the loss all the harder for Sam to bear. It was like The Brotherhood had set Dean up to pull the rug out from under him. And if Sam were honest, he felt victim to the same duplicity.

"He was The Guardian and he still went to Hell. Why should I care about The Triad or The Brotherhood if it couldn't even save my brother?"

"The Brotherhood is not all powerful, Samuel." Mackland moved closer, speaking in the calm, confident tone Sam had always admired, but now the reasonable inflection was like tossing kerosene on a campfire. "Being a member of The Triad isn't about what the position can provide for you. It's what you have to offer to others."

"Right." Sam rolled his eyes. "Dad took the position of Knight just to serve mankind? I'm not a little kid anymore, Mac. The fairytales don't ring true." John Winchester had used his position within The Brotherhood to find his wife's killer, to offer camouflage for their tainted son. It was no different from Sam throwing in with demon kind to save Dean. "His intentions were far from noble."

"Your father offered his service for a myriad of reasons, but don't think for one minute that John didn't believe in saving people, protecting other innocent families from suffering similar fates such as his."

"He was a real hero." Sam started to turn away, but Mackland caught his arm, his grip almost bruising.

"You're right about that. Your father was a hero."

Sam looked down at the doctor's hand, controlling his first instinct to lash out. His heart rate picked up, face flushing. "Dean was a hero, too. Not a good selling point, Mac."

The doctor let him go with a heavy sigh. "I know things seem dark. Believe me. You've read Samuel Colt's journals. He faced the same struggles we are now going through. When Jim and John died I didn't know if I could go on, if I could continue to lead, but I had to push through. It was my duty as The Scholar…"

"A duty you chose!" Sam snapped. "Damn it. How many times do I have to say it?" His father and brother were both gone, and Sam was still being held hostage to The Brotherhood. He took a step back, tried to regain his composure, and put some distance between them. "You're missing the big point. I never said I wanted to be The Scholar."

Mackland propped his hands on his hips. "I don't think Dean was the only one to change his mind about being The Triad."

Sam would admit there were times with Dean and Caleb when Sam embraced the idea, even relished it, but those naïve days were gone. He raised his right hand where he should have worn his silver band. "I've never worn the ring you gave me all those years ago. You told me I had a choice then and now you're telling me I don't? It doesn't work both ways."

"I also told you that if you weren't careful your destiny would choose you," Mackland countered. " You either act or you react, Samuel. There is no other alternative."

Sam understood Mac's point all too well. He was tired of playing catch up, determined to be in control of his destiny for once. Ruby was giving him that opportunity, not some farce of a Triad. "What do you expect from me, Mac?"

"Greatness." Mac said without a hint of reservation. "I expect greatness from you, Samuel."

Sam cursed the hot wash of tears he could feel building in his eyes, the choking lump of emotion robbing his voice of the anger he felt. "Greatness?" Sam laughed, bringing the palms of his hands to press against his eyes. "I don't feel anywhere in the vicinity of great. I feel like a freak. I don't even know who I am anymore."

"But that will change in time. I promise you you'll find yourself again."

"You don't get it." Sam backed away as Mackland tried to close the gap between them. He wiped away all traces of tears before shooting Mackland a challenging glare. "The guy you were banking on is gone. He was finished off four months ago." It had been a languishing death starting with Jessica's murder. "Maybe you should hedge your bets while you still have a chance."

"I still believe in you, Sam. I still believe in Jim Murphy and the dream he had for The Brotherhood."

Sam welcomed the familiar coldness that started in the pit of his stomach, branching out until it cloaked him like a dark cloud. "That dream died with Dean."

"Only if you and Caleb let it."

"That's not fair." Sam refused to let his father use his feelings for Dean as a way of controlling him. Mackland wasn't going to guilt him into anything because of his loyalties to Caleb.

Mackland ran a finger over his eyebrow. "I'm quite sure in our numerous exchanges I have offered up the treasured bit of wisdom that life although glorious is anything but fair."

"I'm not sure I can do what you're asking," Sam said.

"I'm not doing it without you." Sam turned at the sound of Caleb's voice. He was so focused on Mackland he didn't register the fact the other psychic was in the room. Caleb took a seat in one of the chairs at the table. "Either we're both in, or we concede together."

Sam had a sudden thought to leave the farm and never look back. He felt Caleb's fear surge through their common link. Sam met his gaze. 'I don't want to do this, Caleb.'

'Okay, Sammy. Screw The Brotherhood.'

Sam looked up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath. Caleb had always wanted to be The Knight. It was his dream since he was a kid. Only one thing was stronger than the older psychic's desire to save the world and that was his need to fulfill his duty to Dean. Caleb promised his best friend he'd watch out for Sam, and if that meant handing off Excalibur he would if that's what Sam asked of him.

'Ethan will make a good Knight.' Caleb's thoughts echoed in his mind. 'Dad can appoint a new Scholar before he retires.'

Sam flexed his hands, careful to keep his blocks in place. He knew Caleb had no reason to push past his barriers, but he couldn't help to think about the abilities he and Ruby had been honing. How would his acceptance of what he was play into what everyone would expect him to be as The Scholar? He refocused on Caleb. 'But Dean…'

'Deuce would want you to be happy.'

"Boys!" Mackland's booming voice had both of them snapping to attention, looking to the current Scholar. "Enough with the silent communication. You two are no longer afforded the luxury of existing in a secluded world. Time to rejoin the ranks. Do you understand me?"

Sam glanced to Caleb again, giving a silent nod. He turned to Mackland. "We'll go talk to Elijah."

Caleb frowned. "Are you sure?"

Sam wasn't sure about anything anymore. "It's what Dean asked us to do. We should honor that if nothing else." Sam had broken enough promises since his brother's death. There was no reason not to do what Dean asked on this matter.

Caleb looked at Mac. "Satisfied?"

Mackland didn't look happy. "No. But I suppose it is a start."

Sam felt grateful when Mackland's cell rang, distracting the doctor from them. "I have to take this." He motioned to Caleb. "Help Samuel finish breakfast and we'll talk of what you both need to do next."

Caleb waited until Mac was gone before standing and crossing the floor to Sam's side. "We can stay in long enough to deal with the demon crisis. If we don't have Deuce back by then, we can call it quits."

When Sam didn't say anything, Caleb reached out and clasped his shoulder. "Sammy?"

"Sounds good." Sam licked his lips, forcing a weak smile. "All for one and one for all."

"Damn straight." Caleb let him go. Sam watched as he reached into his coat pocket bringing out an envelope. "Mac brought something for you."

Sam arched a brow. "Why didn't he give it to me?"

"Because it's a letter from Dean. After he played postman with me, I asked if I could give you yours. I thought it might be…well, you know."

"Weird?" Sam touched the letter with one finger. It was another link to his brother. "Why would Mac wait until now?"

"Deuce asked him to give us some time." Caleb held out the letter. "You know Dean."

Sam did know Dean. He took the letter with a trembling hand. Sammy was written across the front. "He was trying to protect us."

Caleb gestured to the stove. "I can finish up in here if you want to take that outside."

Sam met the other psychic's gaze. "That bad?"

Caleb didn't even attempt to make a joke. "Like having the knife in your gut twisted very, very slowly."

Sam swallowed hard. That explained why Caleb looked more wrecked than he had last night after the run in with the vamps. Nothing like some emotional torture all done in the name of love. "I'm not sure I'm up for that."

"Honestly?" Caleb took a heavy breath, sliding a hand through his hair. "It was worth every agonizing second. It was like I could almost hear his voice, Sammy…"

Sam looked down at his own letter when Caleb's words trailed off, his gold eyes brighter than usual. "I'll be out at the pond."

Caleb quickly stepped out of his way. Sam had learned if he needed time to himself, the pond was one place the other psychic would not come looking for him. Caleb hadn't been to the pond or to the field beyond its banks since the day they buried Dean. "Take your time."

Sam didn't rush. He walked slowly, not minding that Boo trailed along behind him. Harper Lee was more like Caleb. The Beagle hadn't been near the water since the hell hounds had attacked Dean. Boo scurried around the bank as they passed the pond, nose to the ground, whining and growling. He gave up the hunt for his invisible nemesis quickly, choosing to follow Sam across the adjacent field to the stand of trees bordering the woods where they buried Dean. Sam and Caleb covered the fresh grave with Jim's old row boat. Caleb wanted to burn the bloodied vessel, but Sam wasn't sure he could watch it go up in flames, having lost too much to fire. Seeing the boat moored in the pond was too much to ask of either of them. It was excellent camouflage. Only the small wooden cross Bobby made marked the spot as an internment.

Sam took a seat on the grass by the vessel, pulling some of the larger weeds from around the cross. He was stalling. The piece of paper his brother left for him was not going anywhere. Sam could almost see the smirk on Dean's face. Little Sammy was afraid of a letter. More precisely, Sam was frightened of what his brother had to say, what it might do to the tentative control Sam had retained. He had played those final moments at the pond over and over in his head on a daily basis, dreamed of them and the aftermath almost every night.

Sam looked over at the cross. "I guess this is nothing compared to whatever it is you're dealing with today." Sam couldn't even grieve properly without feeling guilty, knowing Dean's suffering was a hundred times greater. It sucked not having an outlet for his feelings. Only when he used his abilities did he actually feel as if he were doing something useful.

The thought reminded him he hadn't been to his brother's graveside in weeks and the reason behind his absence. "Ruby told me some things about Hell…" It wasn't pleasant pillow talk, but it sure sealed Sam's decision to stay on the quest for Dean's release. Hearing it made what he was doing seem justifiable. Ruby told him Dean was in a worse place than she was. His brother was being held on a level reserved for the select few, receiving the V.I.P. treatment.

"She's back, by the way." Sam felt a familiar rush of guilt. He needed to come clean, even if Dean couldn't hear him, absolve him. "Lilith let her out of Hell in exchange for killing me. Ruby betrayed her. That has to count for something. Right? She's saved my life more than once." Sam was grateful the conversation was one-sided.

"She loved Meg." Sam knew it was a lousy excuse for hurting one of their own. It sounded worse coming from him than it did when Ruby said it. Sam threatened to send her ass straight back to Hell, rescue or not, when she tried to compare him losing Jessica to the hurt she felt when Dean had killed the Yellow-eyed Demon's daughter. "I know it doesn't make up for what she did to Joshua, but I really believe she wants to help now. She's changed." It was the only way Sam could work with her. "When I get to Lilith and force her to let you go, then it will all be worth it. Everything I've done will be worth it. You'll understand."

Sam looked over the fields as a slight wind picked up. Even the warmth of the early morning sun couldn't help him muster enough optimism to believe his brother might understand the rest of what he was hiding. Instead of thinking about the progression of his abilities, and the things he'd done to ensure he continued to improve, he focused on the reason he'd come. Dean's gravesite seemed the appropriate place to read his brother's letter. "I guess it's time to man up."

Sam took the envelope letter from his pocket.

A glint of silver winked at him as he opened the tri-fold. It was Jim's cross pendant. The pastor was never without it. Caleb kept it after Jim's death, and sometime last year Sam noticed it appeared around the Impala's rearview mirror. Sam asked his brother about it. Dean waved him off mumbling something about it being Damien's way of telling Dean to have hope. His brother turned up the radio, going back to his drum solo on the steering wheel before Sam could say more. Hope was still a possibility then.

Sam looked from the silver cross to the wooden one at the head of Dean's grave. "You really are big on the whole re-gifting thing, aren't you?" Sam had seen Caleb looking at his brother's brass compass a few times over the past four months as if it might provide him some kind of hint as to where to go or what to do next. Sam had originally given the compass to Dean as a father's day present when Sam was just a kid, but the brothers had exchanged it between them on various occasions whenever the sentiment of the words engraved on the antique seemed right. Sam was glad Dean had given it to Caleb. Sam wasn't the only one lost without Dean.

Sam lifted Jim's necklace off the paper, taking a deep breath before reading the words his brother had left him as a final gift.

Sammy,

When I sat down to write this I couldn't stop thinking of all the times I forged Dad's signature on notes for school. That got me to thinking about your first day of kindergarten and how I think I was more freaked out than you when I dropped you at the door. It was like I was tossing you into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket. I remember the day dragged on forever as I watched the clock waiting for the moment I could go get you, make sure you were still there and in one piece. And now, here we are again. I'm leaving you. Even though you're grown up, this day is a hundred times worse, because I know in all likelihood I won't be coming back. I won't know how your day turned out, Sammy. I hope you're okay.

It's all I ever wanted, for the people I love to be okay. That's why I want you to go back to school, finish up the lawyer thing. Mac is the perfect example that a Scholar can do both hunting and have a normal life. He'll help. So will Damien. Do the whole damn thing, Bro. Don't settle. Have the wife, 2.5 kids, white picket fence and a horny dog named Boo. Live it up for the both of us. Mom's death took too many of our choices and stole most of our childhood. Please don't let my punching the clock rob you of any more time.

I may not know how your story ends, Bro, but I remember what Pastor Jim once told me about the dragons when I asked him if the castle was all a lie. He said that sometimes the actual truth wasn't as important as what a man chose to believe in.

I choose to believe that in the end good will kick evil's ass, and you will live happily ever after. As for Jim, he believed that love-real love-could never die, that it was more powerful than any wizard's magic. I'm not about to question the pastor. So, even though the enemy cut me down, won the fucking battle, I still win the war. Because if there is one thing a Winchester knows how to do besides disassemble and reassemble any gun known to mankind in record time, it's how to love. Even if we really suck at saying it out loud. I believe that makes us as immortal as old Merlin himself.

What I'm trying to say here in this totally gay and disgustingly sappy chick-flick way is that I'll always be with you, little brother, even when I'm not. So stop sulking and doing stupid shit. Now's your chance. Find your normal. That's an order.

Captain Onehelluva Big Brother

Sam blinked. He watched the ink on the paper run together as tears splashed on the page. "Damn you, Dean!"

He made it to his feet, crushing the letter in his fist. "You're such a hypocrite." Sam hauled off and kicked the boat, putting a large dent in the side. "You can't order me to go on without you…you dick head!"

Boo whined. Sam whirled on the dog. "What? He is." Boo lay down, letting his head rest on his paws with a heavy breath. Sam felt only slightly guilty. "You're just a dog. What do you know?"

Boo continued to look at the boat. Sam sighed, kneeling down to run his fingers over the dog's fur. "I'm sorry. I miss him, too," he whispered. It was the real reason Sam was angry. Lilith was the one who deserved Sam's rage, not Dean. "We'll get him back. No matter how long it takes, I won't stop trying. I promise."

It was the only goal Sam could focus on. School was in the past, and a family of his own an unlikely future. He couldn't do all that Dean asked of him, but he could fulfill one request. Sam reached out and placed Pastor Jim's necklace over the wooden cross. He didn't need a reminder of hope. His faith would only be restored when Dean was back with them. "Caleb and I are going to meet with Elijah. Not because we're giving up, but because you asked us to. This isn't over, Dean. Not by a long shot."

RcJ*Snsnsnsnsn*RcJ

"This doesn't feel right," Caleb said. He peered up at the wooden doors before them. It was a stupid last minute gesture, one he was already regretting. "Let's just go."

"This was your idea." Sam reached out and grabbed his arm keeping him from descending the stairs. "Remember?"

Caleb glanced down New Haven's main avenue. It was dark and quiet. Their drive through town on the way to Texas would have been unimpeded had he not been struck by the odd thought. "That doesn't mean it was a good one."

"I don't know." Sam let him go with a smirk. "If you're admitting to being wrong miracles are already at work."

Caleb snorted. "Right." He rubbed his hands together, working up his nerve to reach for the brass door knob. It had been his idea, after all. "It'll be a miracle if we don't burst into flames when we cross over the threshold."

Sam folded his arms across his chest. "We haven't done anything wrong."

Caleb's gaze went back to the stained glass windows of the church. "That could depend on interpretation." He wanted to believe the other psychic, but couldn't deny the doubt his father's visit had awakened.

"Jim always said we were welcome here." Sam reached out and placed his hand on the door. "And that we would be safe."

Caleb had good reason for his doubt. "This was the last place I saw Jim. He was in a pool of his own blood." He watched Sam's hand slide from the knob. "So much for safe."

Sam took a step back. "Then let's just leave. Go meet with Eli and get it over with."

Caleb eyed the younger psychic. If someone would have told him a year ago that solidifying his position as one third of The Triad would be a task viewed as punishment, he would have thought they were certifiable. But that's exactly what it felt like. Caleb didn't want to be The Knight without Dean. He liked Elijah, but couldn't imagine the professor ever filling even one of his best friend's shoes.

"No. You're right. This is important to me."

Caleb's struggle with what Mackland was asking of them was part of the reason behind the impromptu visit to Jim's old stomping ground. He wasn't quite sure how he was supposed to follow through with the orders he felt honor bound to carry out. Sam had followed him from the car in what he supposed was an act of moral support. Caleb appreciated it more than he could say. He looked down at his ring, sliding his thumb across the silver band then back up to Sam.

"But you don't have to come, Runt. This is something I need to do."

"Look man, Dean would understand how you feel about the grave…"

"No." Caleb held up a hand to interrupt the reprieve he didn't deserve. "If I'm going to go talk to Elijah, accept his position, then I need to do this." As much as Caleb hated to admit Mackland's psycho-babble was dead on, he couldn't deny the gaping wound that Dean's death had left. He needed some kind of closure, however symbolic. Since he couldn't seem to get himself to visit his best friend's actual grave, Jim's church seemed the next best place for some healing to start.

"I don't see how it will help." Sam stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, hunching his shoulders. "But I've got your back."

Bolstered by Sam's declaration, Caleb reached out and opened the door to Pastor Jim's church. "I guess we can look on the bright side. Smiting is probably a quick death." Sam chuckled. It wasn't a real laugh, but it was the closest thing to it Caleb had heard from Sam in a long time. Caleb wondered if the kid could be right about those miracles.

"I'll let you go first, just in case," Sam said.

"Sounds just like something a Scholar would say."

Sam bumped him with his shoulder. "You are the one with the shield."

Caleb took a deep breath, feeling anything but protected. He hadn't been back to the church since arriving too late to stop Meg from killing Pastor Jim. The idea that he could find some sort of peace, some sort of connection to Dean here was feeling more and more ludicrous. "Here goes nothing."

The entrance was anti-climactic. Caleb felt Sam move to his side as they breached the sanctuary. "So far, so good."

Sam moved past him. "Nothing's changed. I guess Brother Benjamin didn't have it in him to redecorate."

Caleb continued up the center aisle, his boots sinking in the plush cranberry carpet. The silence was unnerving and he fought the urge to whisper. "He threatened Jim with renovations for years. In the end, I guess he realized that simple is best."

They stood side by side in front of the pulpit, staring up at the statue of Jesus, his hands opened wide in a gesture of welcoming acceptance. "Jim always said the most important part of a church was the one thing you couldn't see." Caleb swallowed thickly. "He said you didn't have to see something to feel it." He pried his gaze from the empathetic stare carved in stone, looking instead to Sam. "Do you feel anything?"

Sam regarded him with eyes brighter than usual. "Anything? Or Dean?"

Caleb looked away. "This was stupid." He was crazy to think this would make one damn bit of difference. Maybe he should have just given in and made the trek up the mountainside to plant a freakin' tree in Emma's garden.

"No." Sam lifted one of the candles that lined the altar. He handed it to Caleb. "It wasn't."

Caleb took it with a shaky laugh. "I'm surprised Brother Benjamin hasn't converted to those plastic imitation candles with batteries."

Sam shrugged. "Maybe he's hoping the whole place will burn down so he can rebuild from scratch."

"Everything's a conspiracy with you Winchesters."

"You're stalling," Sam said. He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a silver lighter which he offered to Caleb. "The quicker you pull the Band Aid off the less it hurts."

Caleb wondered if this entire side trip was a last ditch effort to stall on the inevitable, approaching Elijah about the position of Guardian. He watched as Sam backed away from the altar, offering him some space. Caleb lit the candle, taking a deep breath and holding it. He closed his eyes, allowing the images he'd sandbagged for the last four months to submerse him. Smothered by the wave of grief that crashed upon him, Caleb reached for the connection he shared with Dean, hoping to be rescued by the familiar lifeline. He was prepared for the emptiness that would assuredly leave him floundering, but instead his eyes snapped open. He gasped like a man deprived of air for far too long.

Sam touched his arm. "Caleb?"

Caleb blinked, looking at the flame he was holding and then to Sam. "Did you feel that?"

Sam frowned. "What?"

"Deuce." Caleb slowly shook his head. "I could have sworn I felt Deuce."

Caleb watched as Sam looked up at the altar before closing his own eyes. When he met Caleb's gaze again, his lashes were wet. "It's like an echo."

Caleb smiled, grateful he wasn't imagining things, but even more thankful for the spark of life he hadn't realized was missing from Sam's eyes. "I'll take an echo over an abyss any day." He wasn't sure what he'd been hoping for, but even a small trace of Dean was beyond his wildest dreams.

Sam nodded, sharing in the sentiment. "He's still with us."

Caleb reached out and squeezed Sam's shoulder. It didn't change what they had to do, but Caleb would take it as a sign they were finally on the right track. "Miracles do happen."

To be continued…