The Thing With Wings

Beta: Tidia

A/N: For those of you who thought I skimped on the emotional stuff…silly readers. That's what endings are for. I've saved all the other notes for the last. Happy Reading!

RCJ

I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.

- Elie Wiesel

"We should have followed him."

Sam stuffed the last of his clothes in his duffle and glanced up at the other hunter. Caleb was standing by the door, his cell phone in hand. "Dude, Bobby wouldn't have gone for that and Dean took the Impala."

Caleb pulled the curtains aside and looked out the window. "Bobby's still on the phone. We can go out the bathroom window and I'll buy us a fucking car." He crossed the room to stand in front of Sam. "Better yet, we'll fly to Atlanta. I'll rent a plane."

Sam understood Caleb's impatience. He hadn't wanted Dean to go either. "Dean needs to do this on his own."

"Just like he needed to face the hell hounds on his own?" Caleb said. "Look how well that turned out."

Sam's stomach clenched with guilt of the memory of watching Dean drifting away in Jim's boat. "Nothing we could have done would have stopped that from happening." Having Dean back didn't erase the doubt Sam carried.

Caleb sat on the bed with a heavy sigh. "I know." He looked up at Sam. "It doesn't make it any easier to accept."

Sam zipped his duffel and tossed it on the other bed before sitting next to Caleb. "I can't believe he's back." He ran a hand through his hair. "I mean…it seems like some bizarre dream."

"A dream I'm going to wake up from any minute now."

Sam felt Caleb's unease and fear. It mirrored his own. If things appeared to be too good to be true, they often were. "That's not going to happen."

"We don't know how he got back." Caleb ran a finger over his ring. "Everything we tried, every demon we wanted to deal with told us it was impossible, Sammy. How the hell did this happen?"

Caleb's concerns were legitimate. Ruby had been the only one to give Sam hope in secrecy. She promised his abilities were a way out for Dean. Sam had embraced his fate, holding onto to the thread of his brother. "It had to be something incredibly powerful." He would call Ruby the first chance he got. If the psychic didn't work out, maybe Ruby could find out what was going on.

"Something more powerful than Lilith?"

"Nothing would surprise me anymore." Sam clenched his fists. "But I'm still killing that bitch."

"Not alone you're not." Caleb gave him a stern look. "No lone ranger stuff, we made a deal to work as a team."

A deal Sam had broken when he began his training with Ruby. "Are you going to tell Dean about the things we did?"

"I doubt if we'll have to fill him in on the big stuff. Hunters talk."

"Some of the lines we crossed…" It wasn't just Sam joining with Ruby but everything they had done up to this point. Revenge felt good, liberating. The hunt had become something different since Dean's death. Rules blurred. Sam wasn't sure if it was a natural progression or a small hint of what everyone feared about them.

"Most of what we did was justified." Caleb might deny it, but Sam was all too aware of the other psychic's doubts. "We used the resources we were given to try and take back what was ours. As Johnny would say, all's fair in baseball and war."

Sam raised a brow. "I promised Dean I wouldn't work to further my abilities." He knew Caleb wasn't aware of just how far Sam had expanded his talents, but the other psychic had helped him train, too.

"Your abilities are a part of who you are," Caleb said.

"The demonic part." His abilities were directly related to the Yellow Eyed Demon, and he was always checking for the telltale yellow eyes. A sign he had gone too far. Of course there was always the other alternative where no such tell-tale evidence would exist. Sam feared the changes would be subtle, like fog slowly making its way ashore. He'd never know he was lost, until it was too late to find his way.

"Jim told me once that it didn't matter where I got the mojo as long as I used it for the right side."

Sam wanted to believe that. He needed to believe he could use what had been done to him to right some of the wrongs to his family. "Should I tell Dean about the Yellow Eyed Demon's blood?" It wasn't the only thing Sam was hiding, but he considered it a big secret for Dean.

"Dude, I can't answer that question for you, but we both know lies have a way of coming back and biting us in the ass." Caleb bumped his arm. "I can tell you that nothing you do will stop Dean from loving you. You're his little brother. That won't ever change."

"You really believe that?" Because Dean was adamant about not using his abilities, and it would be difficult for his brother to accept now that he had a direct connection to evil.

"He might be pissed, even knock you on your ass," Caleb flexed his fist. "But it won't change how he feels. Trust me."

Sam would hold onto that hope. Now that Dean was back, anything was possible. A small smile broke through his worries. "He really came back, Caleb. Dean's alive."

"And we just let him leave!" Caleb gestured to the door. "What the hell were we thinking?"

Sam's mouth twitched. "Dean didn't exactly give us a choice. In fact, he gave us an order to go back to the farm."

"Fucking order." Caleb punched his fists into the mattress. "Since when does he get to tell us what to do?"

Sam stood, grabbing his duffle from the other bed. "He's always told me what to do." Dean wasn't the only one who thought he could boss Sam around. Watching Caleb get a taste of his own medicine had its high points. "Get used to it, man."

Caleb grumbled, getting to his feet. "I don't remember Jim telling Johnny what to do."

"I don't think Dean's going to be as subtle as Jim." Sam checked the room for anything they might have left, facing Caleb once more. He raised a brow. "You know Elijah would have been much easier to deal with."

Caleb grabbed his own bag, tossing it over his shoulder. "I'm not getting a haircut or a shave." He started for the door, still muttering under his breath. "Fucking Joshua."

Sam took one final look around the messy room, feeling the familiar pull of home for the first time in four months.

RcJ*SnsnsnsN*RcJ

"Take a picture, Mama's Boy. It will last longer." Dean glanced at his passenger as he gunned the Impala's engine a little harder. Sam might have defiled his baby with the I-pod contraption, but at least his brother kept the Chevy running and in one beautiful piece. Dean missed her.

"I'm sorry," Joshua said. He continued to stare at Dean with a look of awe. "It's just…it's all quite remarkable."

"Yeah." Dean gave him a half-assed grin before returning his gaze to the road. "Women have been saying that about this package for years." Joshua had been relatively quiet since Dean picked him up at the Atlanta airport. The silence was both awkward and uncomfortable, so Dean welcomed some semblance of their typical exchange.

Joshua snorted. "It really is you, isn't it?"

"You had doubts?" Dean felt some of the tension leave his shoulders as Joshua finally turned his gaze to the passing scenery.

"I have to say Mackland's call was unexpected. When he told me that the recently departed Dean Winchester was requesting my presence, I thought the pressure might have finally driven The Scholar over the edge." He looked at Dean again. "It's good to know The Brotherhood isn't being run by a raving lunatic."

Dean shot him a curious look. "That your very Josh way of saying you're glad I'm back?"

"Yes." Joshua inclined his head. "I'm glad you're alive."

"Ditto," Dean said. He meant it. Dean might have been more focused on his own imminent demise, but he felt like shit knowing Joshua was more than likely going out because of a decision Dean made. "Bobby said you had a rough row to hoe for a full recovery?"

Joshua shifted in the seat. "I'd wager my infirmary was nothing compared to what you've endured."

Dean strummed his fingers on the steering wheel, attempting to keep his heart rate from accelerating. "I don't know. I hear it was touch and go for a while. You were down for a couple of months. I don't really remember what happened to me." Dean didn't want to remember. Maybe if he stuck with that story, the small flashes and the phantom feelings from his time in Hell would stop bleeding into his consciousness.

"Still…" Joshua rearranged his lanky body again, smoothing invisible wrinkles from his sports coat. "I merely underwent surgery, recuperated for a couple of weeks under the care of a topnotch medical team, and then was confined to my condo for the rest of my convalescence. There I was smothered by the unwavering good intentions of three lovely women for thirteen days, twenty one hours and fifteen minutes."

Dean snorted. "That bad, huh?"

"Horrible," Joshua replied, with an uncharacteristic laugh. "Honestly, I thought I might finish myself off before Carolyn convinced my mother and grandmother to leave."

Dean arched a brow. He was getting an unprecedented glimpse of Joshua's life. "Carolyn took on Esme and Jocelyn?" The Madrigal women were forces to be reckoned with.

"It would seem Carolyn has many hidden talents, diplomacy being one of them."

Dean smiled as Joshua fidgeted yet again. "Maybe you should marry that girl, Josh."

That prompted the other hunter to dig into his familiar messenger bag. "Maybe you should fill me in on why my very important business meeting was interrupted by an impromptu summons from the lead singer of Chevrolet Sucks?"

Dean admired the re-direct, although it was far from subtle. At least some things hadn't changed. "You're The Advisor."

"The Guardian-elect needs consulting?"

"The Guardian-elect wanted company."

Joshua turned so he was angled towards Dean. "What about The Knight or Scholar? Considering their reaction to your earlier demise, I'm very surprised they are not glued to your side."

Dean tightened his grip on the Impala's steering wheel, his gaze going to the cell phone lying on the seat. He fought back the urge to call Caleb and Sam again. They were on the road, and would let him know when they reached the farm. Neither his brother nor his best friend was happy with his decision to drive to Atlanta alone to meet Sawyer. "This is something I needed to do without them."

"That either means you're concerned for their safety or you believe their actions of late will only complicate matters."

"A little of both I guess." It was true. Dean didn't know how the meeting with Griffin would go down, but he didn't want any distractions. He needed to be on top of his game. "I also don't know what to make of the Triad trap Rose used against us. Until we know for sure what can be used against us and how to counter it, I'd rather us not jump head first into the pool."

"Carolyn and Riley have been doing some research for Mackland on the subject of traditional Triads since…well, since you went away. They've been unsuccessful concerning the power that Rose spoke of, but I'm sure something will turn up. Carolyn is persistent."

Dean couldn't help himself. "Enthusiastic, too. Right?"

Joshua sighed. "I think you're wise to be more cautious."

"Sammy and Caleb don't see it that way. They were pissed about this."

"And this is?"

"An armistice." Dean grinned. "Possibly an assassination."

"Really?"

Dean began paying more attention to the streets they were on, the impressive Atlanta mansions they were passing. "Depends on how diplomatic I'm feeling when we finally arrive at Griffin's estate."

"I see." Joshua looked out the window for a moment. "You do realize he won't be alone, especially if Mackland called ahead to arrange this tête-à-tête."

"I didn't expect a one on one with Porter. I'm counting on Silas and Harland being there, at least." Dean found the intersection before casting a quick glance to Joshua. "You going to be alright with that?"

"I haven't spoken to my father but once since Gideon's funeral." Joshua fingered the folder he had removed from his bag. "Harland called several weeks after I was home from the hospital and I hung up on him."

"Why?" Dean was shocked Harland had waited that long to contact his son.

"He congratulated me for connecting with Carolyn, since she was from a long line of hunters, even if she was Ian Hastings's sloppy seconds." Joshua held up the file. "This is a record of Harland's activity over the last couple of months-meetings, hunts and his cell phone records. It makes interesting reading. My father has been spending a good deal of time in Texas."

Dean slowed the Impala, having reached the correct street. He cocked a brow at Joshua, waiting for a car to pass before making his turn. "Watching Elijah?"

Joshua nodded. "Why else would he be there? Silas has been keeping a close eye on Caleb and Sam."

"You don't think…" Dean didn't have to stretch too far to consider the prospect that Griffin might have been planning an assassination of his own. "That sonofabitch."

"I don't know what the plans were," Joshua said. "But I wanted to prevent more harm to The Brotherhood."

"You had them tailed to protect Sam and Caleb?"

Joshua gripped the folder. "Jim expected certain things of me and I didn't always live up to his standards. I might have been negligent in my duty in the past, but when I accepted my ring from you in North Carolina, I took that as another opportunity to start again."

Dean didn't know what to say. "Tell me you didn't you use another hunter to do the job?"

Joshua looked affronted. "Don't be ridiculous. I have other contacts besides the Brotherhood related ones."

"What?" Dean grinned, hoping to smooth over his fumble. "Using Drew as your own private dick?"

Joshua shot him a disdainful glower. "It is that tasteless humor I haven't missed over the last four months."

"Then the coven?"

Joshua picked at the imaginary lint on his slacks. "An associate, yes."

"Walking tree? Bodyguard Guy?"

"Rest assured I would never blur lines between my duties to the coven and my duty to you," Joshua said. "This situation called for utmost discretion, which I can guarantee was maintained."

Dean pulled the Impala to the curve, adjacent to the address Mackland had given him. Dean wasn't blind to the fine line Joshua would always walk between two worlds. It was a position Dean had inadvertently put the man in. "Not all situations will always be so clear."

"You doubt I can carry out my duty?" Joshua gestured to Griffin's mansion. "Is this some sort of test?"

"No. No more tests." Dean licked his lips. "You're here because of your position with the future Triad. But you know there's going to be times when your job with us might conflict with the coven. I'll keep you out of the loop when I think that's the case."

"I'll try not to take offense."

"Wouldn't Esme be proud of us?" Dean pulled the car up to the gate. "This road trip is so much nicer than the last time you co-piloted a gig."

Joshua gestured to the intercom situated near one the large brick pillars on either side of the gate. "What exactly did Mackland tell Griffin?"

Dean shrugged. "That there were some issues that needed to be discussed immediately."

"And did he mention with whom Griffin would be discussing those issues?"

Dean reached out and pressed the intercom. "I'm sure Griffin assumed The Scholar would be attending and Mac told him you would be coming." Dean looked at Joshua. "But I told Mac not to ruin the big surprise."

Joshua rolled his eyes. "Wonderful."

"Yes?"

The voice was familiar, might have been that of Silas Fox. It was hard to be certain over the speaker. Dean nudged Joshua, who leaned forward towards Dean's window. "Joshua Sawyer and company. I believe Griffin is expecting us."

There was a brief silence, then the gates opened allowing them access to the long circle drive to the mansion. Dean raised a brow. "You ready for this?"

"As long as you don't expect me to run a marathon or perform any spectacular feats of strength, I should be fine."

Dean's smile faded slightly as he regarded Joshua. "I'm not worried about your health, Josh."

Joshua gave him a tight nod. "I'm good."

Dean put the car in drive, pulling forward. He cut his eyes to Joshua. "Dying sure has a way of changing people, huh?"

"It definitely gives one a new perspective."

"So, we're good?"

Joshua looked up, meeting his gaze. "As long as the last minute summons remain at a minimum. Advisor does not imply you can monopolize my valuable time at a whim."

Dean snorted. "So, no midnight calls for a beer run?"

"Hardly."

"Don't worry." Dean stopped in the shadows away from the lights of the estate and opened his door, getting out. "I really don't want to tangle with Carolyn."

Joshua followed his lead. "I believe Alison will be the one you should watch out for. I fear once she finds out you've returned, you'll be inundated with calls and memos about her on-going crusade to enlighten the misogynistic regime of The Brotherhood on their archaic good old boy practices."

Dean made his way to the back of the Impala, opening the trunk. He lifted the false lid to allow access to the weapons. Sam in all his anal retention had compartmentalizated, even added a touch light. He grabbed his extra gun, offering it to Joshua. "Maybe I can work out an arrangement with your wonder assistant Drew."

Joshua took the gun, checking the safety. "You're in need of a private dick?"

Dean frowned. "What was that about my tasteless humor?"

"I've often wondered if it wears off on the people around you after a prolonged exposure? That would explain Caleb and Sam."

"Yeah." Dean picked up the large roll of industrial plastic he'd stopped at Lowe's to purchase and shoved it into Joshua's free arm. "I'm the bad influence." He added two rolls of Duct tape to his pocket.

Joshua looked down at the bundle, then back to Dean. "Please tell me your brilliant plan includes promises of winterizing Griffin's home?"

Dean removed his gun from his shoulder holster before slamming the trunk. "On the Godfather movies they always use those fancy oriental rugs, but trust me, stuff seeps right through." Dean patted the Impala's roof as he walked by. "Blood is a bitch to get off the interior."

"Of course." Joshua hurried to catch up. "We wouldn't want to desecrate the sanctity of your car."

"Exactly." Dean made his way up the steps to the front door before facing Joshua. "I'm liking this new you more and more." He raised his gun and pointed it towards the door. "You want to do the honors?"

Joshua shifted his load and rang the doorbell. Silas answered immediately and Dean greeted the older hunter with a swift punch that put Silas on his ass.

"Is Griffin home?" Dean loomed over Silas, his gun pointed at the downed man's chest. "The Guardian needs to chat."

"Silas?" Harland appeared in the hallway. "What the hell is going on…" His hand moved quickly to his side when he saw Dean, but Joshua was faster.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Joshua stepped around Dean and Silas, who was slowly pushing himself off the floor. "I believe Griffin is expecting us."

"I was expecting Mackland."

Dean stepped back, motioning for Silas to stand as he shifted his gun to cover Griffin who had entered the foyer. To Porter's credit he didn't seem surprised or shaken by Dean's presence, rather amused. "You know what they say about assuming," Dean said.

"It seems the reports of your untimely demise have been rather exaggerated, Dean Winchester."

"No. They were dead on." Dean shrugged. He gave Griffin a closer look. The man had aged since Wyoming. "I died a horrifying bloody death."

Griffin clasped his hands in front of him. "What brings you back, Son?"

"That's the million dollar question of the day."

"Your brother and that half-breed finally get one of their kind to spring you from Hell?" Harland said. "We know what they've been up to."

"Sam and Caleb had nothing to do with this." Dean looked at Porter. "Maybe I clawed my way out of the pit to come back for you."

"I've been in my own private hell for quite some time and if that was on your agenda I doubt Mackland would have bothered calling ahead, nor would you have brought Joshua as a witness."

Joshua dropped his package. "He needed someone to carry the plastic."

"You're a henchman now?"

"Joshua is here on behalf of The Triad. You remember The Triad, right? The governing body of The Brotherhood? I think you swore allegiance when you accepted those silver rings you're all wearing."

"You're here to make it official?"

"You are a smart man."

Griffin gestured to a room off the foyer. "Perhaps we should toast the occasion."

Dean shook his head. "We're not going to be here that long."

Griffin looked at the plastic. "Then you're here to tie up loose ends?"

"That's one way to look at it."

"You're going to murder us?" Harland turned on Joshua. "You're willing to let this abomination kill your father?"

"Concern for each other's welfare has never been a strong point in our relationship."

"I'm giving you a choice, Griffin. You either cut the psychotic jilted ex routine and join in with us, or I cut you loose for good. We're at war. I'm not having any unexploded landmines in my backyard."

"What's in it for me?"

"For starters, you're in The Brotherhood again."

Griffin started to open his mouth, but Dean cut him off. "And don't say that you are a longstanding member because we both know that ring on your finger is a fake." Dean waggled his hand. "I can tell it's not the one Jim gave you."

Griffin clenched his fist. "James let his emotions get in the way of his decisions."

"Yeah, and it saved your life."

"What I did in the past I did for the good of The Brotherhood."

"What you did got Jarrett killed, Gideon murdered." Dean glanced to Silas, then back to Porter. "You want that same fate for the few people you got left."

"You really intend to eliminate me and my associates in cold blood?"

"Josh did lug that plastic all the way in from the car."

"James would never allow this."

Pastor Jim had his reasons for allowing Griffin to continue on- Ethan, Elijah and Gideon. That time had passed, and he knew for certain Jim would do exactly the same, without the Godfather references. Dean lowered his weapon. "Look, I'm giving you a chance to do the right thing for once in your miserable life. Show me you're half the hunter that Jim once thought you were, the kind of man Gideon and Ethan believed you to be."

Porter licked his lips. "And if I accept this… all is forgiven?"

"Let's just say I have a new appreciation for second chances." Dean narrowed his eyes. "But don't make this decision lightly because understand this, if I get word that you're even considering going against me, if you even look sideways at Caleb or Sam, I will revoke your membership privileges permanently and it will not be in the swift manner that I am promising you now. No more threats to what's mine. Understood?"

"Don't do it, Griffin!"

"For God's sake keep your mouth shut, Harland," Griffin snapped. He returned his gaze to Dean. "I will accept your offer, Dean." He slid the silver ring from his finger, offering it to Dean. "You're right. This was my father's ring. He was a good man, a credit to The Brotherhood."

"Keep it. It's yours now." There was nothing wrong with keeping a connection to one's father. Dean had the leather jacket and the Impala to keep the memory alive for him.

Griffin nodded, returning the ring to his hand. "It's time old wounds were healed and The Brotherhood restored to the greatness it once knew."

"Silas?"

"I feel the same." He extended a hand to Dean. "I want to be counted in your guard."

Dean shook Silas's hand before turning to Harland. "The only thing keeping me from putting a bullet in your brain is the fact your Josh's father. You should think about that."

He turned to Griffin. "He's your responsibility."

"He won't be a problem."

Dean started for the door. "Josh."

Harland reached out and grabbed his son's arm. "Joshua?"

"Understand this." Joshua shook off his father's grip. "The Guardian may have spared your life as a courtesy to me, but I don't owe you any such service. You're dead to me."

Dean waited for Joshua then closed the door behind them. "I'd say that went well."

Joshua shifted the plastic, and Dean gave him a moment to compose himself. "You believe Griffin will follow through with his promise?"

"If not, then I'll follow through with mine."

Joshua returned the spare gun to Dean. "If that occurs I'd rather you have Caleb bring the plastic if you don't mind."

"Mama's Boy doesn't want to get his hands dirty after all?" Dean elbowed the blond hunter before descending the stairs.

"The suit, actually." Joshua smoothed his jacket before following behind Dean. "If you think blood stains are hard to remove from leather, imagine what it does to Armani."

"I'm sure it's a bitch." Dean hesitated before opening his door. "Look, man about your dad…"

Joshua met his gaze over the roof of the Impala. "He's had his share of second chances."

"Okay." Dean could understand that also. He slid behind the wheel and waited for Joshua to get in. "You hungry?"

"Only if the meal your offering isn't wrapped in colorful wax paper, served in a brown bag, or brought to us by some gum-chewing tart named Judith at The Greasy Spoon Diner."

Dean started the Impala. "That your 'Josh' way of offering to treat?"

"Yes, I'll pay." Joshua leaned back in his seat. "But just so you know, I'm writing it off as a business expense."

Dean laughed. "Of course you are."

RcJ*SnsnsnsN*RcJ

Mac was waiting on Dean when he arrived at the farm. "My God it's good to see you." The doctor squeezed him hard, releasing him for only a moment to look him over for injuries before pulling him in for another embrace. "I thought you were lost to us."

"I'm okay, Mac." Dean's eyes began to sting and he cursed his voice for betraying him. He blamed it on the emotional rollercoaster ride of the last twenty-four hours. "Where's Sammy and Damien?

"Exactly where you should be- in bed, asleep." Mac pulled away, giving him the more familiar physician once over. "You look exhausted."

"No. I'm good." He didn't want to fall asleep, fearful of waking up and finding that this was all a dream.

"Robert said you had no trace of your past injuries, but your hands..." Mackland ran his fingers over the cuts and bruises on Dean's knuckles.

"No one thought to toss a couple of tools in the box with me before nailing it shut?"

"You're lucky there appear to be no fractures." Mackland's disapproving look said how the doctor felt about Dean's off color humor. "Have there been any other symptoms? Any odd aches or pains? Headaches?"

"I don't know, Doc." Dean laughed, pulling away from Mackland's probe of his cranium. "Can you catch something from being in Hell?"

Mackland's smile was forced and Dean worried the unshakeable doctor might break as he laid a strong hand along Dean's neck. Mac's gray eyes shimmered. "One never knows. We've never dealt with anything like this." Mac cleared his throat, gestured to his medical bag sitting on Jim's old recliner. "Would you humor an old saw bones?"

"Why not?" Dean took a seat on the couch, knowing Mackland wouldn't give in until he conceded. The doctor needed proof that Dean was alright, and Dean was willing to do almost anything to take the anguished look from Mac's face. "You're imagining the journal articles you could score if you fixed me, aren't you?"

Mac opened his medical kit, removing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. "Is there something in need of fixing?"

Dean hissed when the cold metal touched his chest. Nothing Mac could cure with a band aid. "No. I feel better than I have in years."

Mackland raised a brow as he shifted the stethoscope to Dean's back. "Take a couple of deep breaths." Dean did as he asked, feeling all of ten again, as Mackland checked his mouth, eyes, ears, before testing his reflexes. "What happened to your face?"

Dean winced as Mackland touched the bruise on his cheek. "Your son punched me."

Mackland dropped his hand. "I see."

Dean didn't understand the look of defeat that flooded Mac's gray eyes. "Not that I wasn't asking for it. I think I was channeling Dad."

"Funny, but I have felt that same connection to your father during the last few months." The doctor finished by searching Dean for scars, some of which were evidence of life-saving procedures Mackland himself had performed.

"It really is amazing." Mackland rocked back on his heels. "Even the scar from the appendectomy I performed is gone, as well as the one from the surgery on your fibula. My stitching prowess is astounding, but not miraculous. Your body is a blank slate."

"I'm a battle virgin," Dean shook his head sadly. "How will I impress the chicks now?"

"I doubt if that will be a problem for you." Mackland opened his bag, removing alcohol wipes. "You don't recall what happened to your shoulder?"

Dean bit his lip. Mackland had inspected the freaky hand-print. "It was there when I climbed out of the grave."

Mackland ran one of the wipes over his knuckles, coating them with antibiotic cream before starting on his other hand. "It looks almost like a healed burn, but the scar appears years old."

"Can you get rid of it?"

Mackland stopped what he was doing and looked up. "I'm not sure. It would require some intricate skin graphs and a top notch plastic surgeon."

Dean swallowed, feeling suddenly vulnerable. He wanted the thing gone-erased. "But you could make it happen, right?"

Mackland tossed the medicine back in his pack, taking the seat on the couch beside Dean. "If you want it gone, I'll take care of it. Money won't be an issue and I know a man for the job."

Dean's mouth twitched, the unflinching assurance in Mackland's voice reminding him of Dad. "You talking about your buddy that keeps Dick Clark frozen in time?"

"Someone even better. You've probably seen his work in Play Boy."

"Nice." Dean looked down at his hands. "Thanks for the patch up."

Mackland patted his knee. "Believe me, it feels good to actually be able to put you back on the mend."

Dean met the doctor's gaze, recalling what Bobby had told him about his state after the Hellhound attack. "You've always been damn good at your job."

Mackland picked up his medical bag, adding the rest of the items he'd used. "I'm not so sure I've been excelling these last few months." He glanced at Dean. "As you can probably tell, I let Caleb and Samuel fall apart."

"I hate to break it to you, Saw Bones, but I doubt if there was enough gauze and tape in the world to keep that from happening."

A faint smile crossed Mackland's face. "A doctor is only as good as his medicine."

"A very wise man once told me there was no instant cure for grief," Dean said.

Mackland closed his bag. "Death has always been my most formidable enemy."

"Definitely ranks on my list, too." Dean tried for a smile. "But we won this round. I'm back and besides the brand, I'm better than new."

Mackland sighed. "It would appear that way. I wouldn't mind doing a cat scan, maybe an MRI…"

Dean raised his hands. "Let's not borrow trouble, Doc. Your preliminary results are good enough for me."

"What about the rest of it?"

Dean pursed his lips. "The rest of what?"

Mackland tapped his head, then moved his hand to touch the place right above Dean's heart. "Body is only one third of the equation. Took the strict scientist in me a while, but I understand now that the mind and spirit actually have important roles."

Dean clenched his fists. "Stop worrying, Mac."

"I'll never stop worrying about you boys." Mackland turned, his knees bumping against Dean's. "Sam told me you have no recollection of your time in Hell, and that's a blessing. I've worked with people who have suffered severe trauma, and I understand the toll it can put on a person's health. The mind has amazing defenses, but mostly they only work for a period of time, giving the person time to heal before they slowly begin to break down."

Dean looked at the doctor. "I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not going to clam up and cut myself off from everyone."

"I understand that this experience is unlike anything anyone could imagine, worse than what happened with your mother, but I think you should be aware that your mind could react in a very similar way. You should be prepared for unprovoked bursts of anger or violence, night terrors, flashbacks, a myriad of symptoms could…"

"So what?" Dean felt his irritation rising. "You want me to see one of your shrink buddies? I think it would be hard to explain my situation. Maybe I should take some of those meds you suggested to Sam when you thought I might freak out about my time running out."

"If you wanted to see someone, we could tell them you're just back from Iraq or Afghanistan. That you witnessed a heinous crime…"

"A heinous crime?" Dean laughed, running both his hands through his hair. He had seen misdeeds, alright. Up close and personal. If he tried hard enough, he could probably see the blood on his hands. . "No thanks, Doc."

Mackland had proposed the same respite when he found out about the deal, offering to explain Dean's unique dilemma off as a terminal illness. He knew Mac wanted to help, loved him for insisting, but Dean would never agree to any such recourse. "Just let me deal with this my own way. Please."

"Only if you understand you don't have to do any of this alone," Mackland said. "You have a family who wants to help."

Dean forced another smile. "I know that. But we have enough problems without adding my psyche to the mix just now."

Mackland acquiesced for the time being. "How did the meeting with Griffin go?"

"He's onboard." Dean propped his hands on his hips. "Thanks for letting me deal with that situation in my own way, especially since there hasn't been a changing of the guard."

Mackland laid a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Dean, the guard changed when Jim died. I'm only here to help with the transition."

"We need you, Mac."

"And I'm not going anywhere."

Dean raised a brow. "I know it's not the best timing but could we spare you for a quick vacation to Madrid."

"Madrid?"

"Josh said Esme is visiting . . ."

Mac squeezed Dean's shoulder before removing his touch. "I appreciate that thought, but Esme is doing what she needs to for her family and I'm doing what I need to do for mine."

"Still…" Dean said. "Some flowers and candy wouldn't hurt. Not that I've ever had to romance anyone, but I hear tell that sappy shit works pretty well."

Mackland laughed. "Now that you're back, perhaps I'll invest in some of those tactics."

"Speaking of being back, I promised Sam and Caleb I'd tell them about my meeting with Griffin."

"You do that. Then get some sleep. Doctor's orders."

Dean wasn't so sure sleep was what he needed, but he spent an hour sitting at Sam's bedside watching his kid brother get some much needed Z's. The steady rise and fall of Sam's chest, the peaceful look on his face resonated deeply for Dean, who never thought he'd be granted anything so close to comfort again. He couldn't stop his mind from going to another time when he sat by Sam's side, his brother so still, void of breath, body gray and growing colder by the minute.

Dean reached out, chanced resting his hand on the side of Sam's face. His brother's skin was warm. Sam shifted, turning towards Dean's touch but didn't' wake. "It was worth it, little brother."

Dean was tempted to give into his own weariness after watching the ease at which his brother rested, but couldn't imagine letting his guard down quite yet. He was afraid of what waited for him on the other side.

Dean ran his fingers over the charred metal box he was holding. He stood, crossing the floor to slip quietly into Caleb's room.

Damien woke up as Dean neared his bed. "Deuce?" He sat up, blinking. "That really you?"

"What?" Dean took a seat on the edge of the mattress. "You think I'm a mirage?"

Caleb gestured to where Dean was sitting. "Not the first time in the last four months that I've dreamed you were sitting on my bed. Of course you look a whole hell of a lot better now than you did in full 'I've just been shredded by a hell hound' wardrobe."

Dean couldn't stop the shiver that ran through him. He knew what it was like to watch a brother fall. He never meant for Sam or Caleb to suffer that same fate. "Yeah. I bet."

"Shit." Caleb leaned forward, his expression one of concern. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for that to sound…"

Dean forced a smile. "Dude, I'm flattered I replaced the infamous Heidi Klum dream."

"Don't be." Caleb exhaled with a watery laugh. "Your death definitely put a damper on everything fun. I'll be pissed at you for at least the next twenty years."

Dean gestured to his face. "Are you going to hit me again?"

"You deserved that," Caleb said. Dean wondered who Damien was trying to convince. "Granted I had lousy timing, doesn't change you were definitely asking for it."

"You're right." Dean didn't need to be persuaded. Caleb should have thumped him a lot of times through the years. He only hated the guilt he knew Caleb would carry because of it. Dean vividly remembered the first time he hit Sam, Dad's death pushing him over that invisible line between protector and red-blooded male. He licked his lips, trying to find the words to reset what had been done. "I know my dying sucked and I shouldn't have expected you to keep it all together and carry on like the perfect soldier. I was way out of line earlier."

"No." Caleb ran a hand through his hair. "I had a job to do and I screwed it up. Johnny taught me not to let my emotions get in the way. He'd be disappointed."

"I don't think so," Dean said. He lifted the lid of the box and took out Dad's Corporal stripes. "In fact, I think he'd give you that promotion you've had coming."

"Deuce…" Caleb shook his head, pressing against the headboard. "I can't take those."

"Yes, you can." Dean shoved the chevrons towards his friend. "I want you to. You watched out for Sam and…"

"You don't owe me anything for watching out for Sammy. We're family. It's what we do."

"Dad was your family, too. He would want you to have them. You've earned them." Dean reached out placed the Marine insignias in Caleb's hand with a half-grin. "Besides, twenty years as a private and nothing to show for it is embarrassing."

Caleb took the patches. "Thanks, man."

"Now speaking of Dad…where the hell is his truck and what's that thing in the driveway?"

"It's a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640."

"Really?" Dean shook his head. "You bought a Lamborghini."

"Dude, you told me to put Johnny's truck out to pasture and buy a car."

"That request you listen to?"

Caleb shrugged. "Watching the runt was a full time job."

"I said buy A car, Damien. Not Batman's car." Bobby had told him that the beautiful car in the drive was from the summer Batman movie, which came out after Dean's death.

Caleb shrugged. "Sammy and I saw the movie. I thought you'd approve."

"Because it's a chick magnet or because Bruce Wayne's vehicle is so inconspicuous for hunting?"

"It can go zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds and registers 220. That could pay off."

"Can Sammy the Sasquatch even fit in the damn thing?" Dean had studied the car, going over its lines, peaking inside to see the dashboard. He wanted to drive it.

Caleb grinned. "We'll only use it on special occasions and I'll let you retrofit it for weapons."

Dean folded his arms over his chest. "Fine. The Batmobile stays. On one condition…"

Caleb regarded him suspiciously. "Being?"

"You pull out the old art set and…"

"Dude," Caleb flopped back on the bed. "Enough with the painting, you're like a broken record…"

"Hold up." Dean interrupted. "I'm not asking you to get in touch with your inner Renoir. I just want you to draw me something."

Caleb rolled over, propping on his elbow. "You want me to draw you a picture?" He snorted. "Of what? A green dragon?"

Dean shook his head. "No. A phoenix."

Caleb frowned. "Why?"

"It's what rises from the ashes when a dragon dies." Caleb told him the story after Conner took Sam. Dean had lost faith in his father, in everyone, but Caleb had given had given him hope. "Remember?"

"No. I mean, yes, I remember, but why the picture…"

"I thought after Sammy and I take care of this psychic thing with Bobby that you and I could take a trip down to Alabama, maybe catch a Tigers game, visit the Ink Spot while we're there." He had never forgotten the place Moose had taken him when he had run away from his father to Caleb. He treasured those memories. Dean wanted to make new memories.

Caleb sat up again. "You want a tattoo?"

Dean smiled. "I've got pretty much a clean pallet again and…"

"Wait." Caleb held up a hand. "What do you mean after you and Sammy take care of the psychic thing?"

Dean sighed. "Look, Damien, until we figure this stuff out, I don't think flaunting the complete Triad anywhere besides the farm is the smartest thing to do."

"Did something happen at Griffin's…"

"This isn't about hunters." Dean rested his elbows on his knees. "It's about demons and what Rose said about them having their own secret books. The things they're capable of…"

"So, you want me to go my separate way?" He looked at Dad's stripes. "Is this some other kind of goodbye?"

"No." Dean was quick to erase the doubt he could see building in the gold gaze again. "Hell no. I'm just saying we have to be careful."

Caleb met his gaze. "I can't go through that again."

"The only thing I'm asking you to do is to go to Texas."

"Why?"

"Because I need you to talk to Elijah and Ethan. I don't want them hearing I'm back from anyone else." He also wanted them to know Griffin had a change of heart, and maybe the twins could mend that relationship. Dean nudged Caleb with his elbow. "So will you do it, Corporal?"

Caleb looked down at the patches. "The tattoo or the run to Texas?"

"Both."

"I think I'm the man for both jobs."

Dean elbowed him harder this time.. "You can take Mercielago, get there in no time."

"True." Caleb grinned, rubbing his side. "Ethan hasn't seen her."

Dean raised a brow. "Her?"

"Heidi."

Dean laughed. "Idiot."

"You're back?" Sam stumbled into the room, bleary-eyed and rumpled. "What are you two talking about?"

"Uh oh, we've woken your sidekick, the Boy Wonder." Sam's hair was sticking up in different directions. They both needed haircuts.

"He's jealous I'm getting some Dean-time without him."

"Shut up, dick head. You're the one who bitched all the way here about Joshua getting to go to Griffin's."

"You jealous of Josh, Damien?"

Caleb scowled, indignantly. "Hell no. Sam's brooding just brings out the worst in me."

"And here I was beginning to believe all that stuff Josh was telling me about how well you two bonded why I was gone." At least his death had resulted in something positive.

"He bossed me around," Sam said. He crossed the room, crowding onto the other corner of Caleb's bed. "Or at least he tried to."

"I was following The Guardian's orders. And he mostly was a pain in my ass, but we survived."

"That's what's important." Dean grew quiet, looking down at the ring on his hand.

Caleb cleared his throat. "You want to talk about it?"

Dean looked from his brother's intense gaze to Caleb's concerned face. "I told you there's not a lot to talk about. I don't remember…"

"Don't lie to me. I may not be able read your thoughts, but your emotions are off the chart."

"You're reading auras now?" Dean said, folding his arms over his chest, trying to keep his emotions from leaking out. "Maybe you and Bobby's psychic chic should set up shop."

"We just want to help," Sam said. Dean bit down on the inside of his jaw to ward off the stinging behind his eyes. "I told you, I don't remember much."

"I thought you didn't remember anything?"

"Damn it, Sammy." Dean ran a hand over his hair. "I remember I did some fishing. Okay? Ate a lot of pie. Played chess with Gideon. " The look Caleb and Sam exchanged was exactly why Dean did not want to breach the subject of what his experience had been, even the lighter side. "Let's just drop it."

"I don't understand," Caleb said.

"Neither do I, not all of it." Dean knew he wasn't going to get away without giving them something, at least explaining his crazy comment. "There were times when I was gone that I was able to get back here, escape what was happening to me. Jim was here, and Gideon…" Dean was sure it was the only thing that kept him sane. Maybe it was like Mackland said; the mind had amazing ways of protecting itself.

"Like a vision?" Caleb frowned. "Or a dream?"

"Maybe projecting or astral traveling?" Sam said.

"I don't know. " Dean twisted his ring. It wasn't something Sam could postulate about or Caleb could explain with psychic ability. "All I know is despite where my physical sense was, in my mind I was with Jim and the others." Dean looked from Caleb to Sam. "It happened before when Rose had me, during the torture."

"It could be a Guardian thing," Sam offered. "You've talked with Jim in dreams before."

"I guess." Jim had hinted at as much. The time at the farm seemed blurrier than his time in Hell. Dean swallowed thickly, forcing a strained laugh. "I didn't care what it was. I just didn't want it to end." But it did and then Dean had done the unthinkable-the unforgivable. "Can we just talk about something else?"

Dean wasn't sure if Sam and Caleb were willing to drop it because they were glad to have him back or because they were afraid of what else he might say, but Sam cut him a break. "How did it go at Griffin's?"

"I gave him his ring back-made him an official member of The Brotherhood again."

"You what?"

"It's time to start over." He met Sam's gaze. "It's our time."

Caleb sat up straighter. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

Dean nodded. "I talked with Mac. He's not going anywhere with the way things are...the demons and Lilith, but he'll be ready for a changing of the guard eventually."

"What about finding what or who freed you from Hell?"

"That's top priority right now." Dean met Sam's gaze. "No matter what we find out, we stick together." Dean opened the scorched box again, moving Jessica's locket to pick up the silver ring that lay beside it. "Which by the way, I think it's time you wear this."

Dean recognized the familiar stubborn scowl that donned Sam's face. "Dad didn't wear a ring."

"You're not Dad, Sammy." He pushed the ring towards his brother. "And I'm not Jim."

Sam took the ring, staring at it for a long moment before sliding it on his finger. He flexed his fist then looked down at the silver band.

"Not so bad, huh?" Caleb bumped his shoulder.

Sam sighed. "I guess it's not as heavy as I thought."

"That's my boy." Dean smiled at his brother, then rolled his eyes to Caleb. "Okay, Damien, go ahead..." He held up his fist and Sam followed suit. "We both know you're dying to say it."

Caleb bumped his hand against theirs with a look of complete exhilaration, one he couldn't quite mask beneath the exaggerated eye roll or showy snort of derision. "All for one and one for all."

"I hope you're happy now," Dean said. "We're officially the next Triad."

"Yeah. Yeah." Caleb shoved his blankets aside and stood with a big yawn. He ruffled Dean's hair before moving away. "It's great, but it kind of pales in comparison, you know."

"Where are you going, Damien?" Dean frowned, watching his best friend head for the door. "I didn't think anything could overshadow your Musketeer dream."

"Bathroom," Caleb said. He paused at the door, looking back at Dean. "And neither did I until you came back to us."

"Hey." Sam's touch had Dean refocusing on his brother as he heard the bathroom door close. "You probably want this back." Sam removed Dean's amulet from around his neck and offered it to him. "Consider it a welcome back present."

Dean looked at his brother's hand for a moment before accepting the totem. "More re-gifting?"

Sam smiled. "We Winchesters are notorious for it."

"Thanks, Bro." Dean slipped the amulet over his head. The necklace rested against his heart, and Dean realized how much he'd missed its presence. How much he'd missed his brother. "I'm glad you're okay, Sammy."

Sam blinked, his gaze going to his lap. "Dean…"

"I have something for you, too," Dean interrupted.

Sam cleared his throat and met Dean's gaze.. "What?"

Dean opened the charred box again, pulling out the silver-winged horse that had belonged to his mother. He'd found the broken toy when he was looking for Dad's stripes, the mangled pieces were buried with his and Sam's other treasures. "It took some patience and a whole hell of a lot of glue, but I think she's better than new."

Sam's hand trembled as he took the horse. He traced a finger over a small chip in one wing and looked at Dean. "I thought I crushed her."

"No, Sammy." Dean shook his head, thinking of all they had been through."I've never been more certain. . . hope is the one thing that can't ever be destroyed."

RCJ

December 2008

Wow, here we are at the end. I have to admit I'm a little out of sorts as to what I should do now as I have no clue as to where the rest of season four is going. I know where I would like it to go, but that's a whole other story that Tidia won't let me start. To answer some questions, Tidia and I are most definitely keeping Castiel and Uriel, with our own slant. Tidia's Christmas story will bring the AU up to date completely with what has happened thus far in season four. Yes, we know our background for Mary and her parents is different, and we're keeping Conner and that little history. This is the problem with not having access to Kripke's cocktail napkin of ideas when we venture out on our own. ;-) As bad as we hated to, bringing Ruby back was essential to keep with the direction Kripke went. When we planned In Victus there was still hope Ruby was really gone. Thank you all for reading and continuing to be interested in this tiny little AU.