What Brings Us Home
By: Ridley C. James
Disclaimer: Nothing that looks remotely familiar belongs to this author. No profit was made, nor was any harm intended.
A/N: One shot, pre-series. After the episode Dark Side of the Moon a few readers asked if I would write the story of Sam running away to Flagstaff in The Brotherhood AU. Since Tidia and I finished up with our final pentalogy story, I thought I would give it a whirl. The first chapter of our new story What is to Come will be out on Monday, May 31st! We will both be posting. Keep an eye out, we can't wait to see what you all think. This one shot is the official kick off for my summer of Dean angst and hurt comfort. I needed a theme, and after I was crushed by the season finale this one seemed appropriate, so be prepared. Anything is possible. John fans, please take no offense. I know I can write the guy as a bastard, but I truly believe he was a bastard who loved his sons. I'll make up for it in my next story, which is referenced here. I promise.
"It is not down in any map; true places never are."-Herman Melville
The first time Sam Winchester ran away from his brother he was seven years old, and it was a game. He left a Spiderman comic and half eaten chocolate milkshake behind. He was very disappointed it took his brother and father the whole afternoon to find him. Dean had been terrified the same monster that had taken their mother had claimed another victim. He didn't protest his father's punishment for his part in letting Sam out of his sight; in fact he was sure he deserved it. Sam cried as if he were the one enduring their father's wrath.
Sam was twelve the second time around. He waited for their father to leave for the small garage where he'd found temporary work. Sam left a note for Dean, telling his brother how sorry he was, and that he would miss him. It took their father only eight hours to track him to a Detroit bus station. Sam had a jar of peanut butter, a Coke, and a ticket to Key West, the southernmost point in the continental United States. It was the farthest he could run without falling into the ocean.
This time Sam was two weeks shy of his sixteenth birthday. John Winchester was on an extended hunt in the hills of South Dakota. He wouldn't be looking for his son anytime soon, too focused on the werewolf Bobby had a line on. There were no notes, or apologies, and the only thing Sam left behind for his brother was a false trail that had two well-trained members of The Brotherhood chasing their tails.
"Sonofabitch." Caleb slammed the passenger door of the Impala. Dean was too stunned to give him hell for it, too relieved Sam had indeed duped them and not been taken. "Tell me Sam didn't just lead us in a fucking circle like a couple of amateurs."
"I think he did." Dean slid into the driver's seat. He put the key into the ignition, but didn't start the car. It sucked, yet it also meant Sam was alive and well, had left of his own cognition. It was both good news and terrible news. Supernatural beings were not the only threat in their world. His brother was naïve about many things.
Dean and Caleb drove six hours to burst into the Easy Rest Motel expecting to find Sam. Instead, they scared the hell out of a couple of teenagers from his brother's school. It didn't take much convincing to get the stoner and his girlfriend to spill their guts. Sam paid them two hundred dollars to take a little weekend getaway, including free gas and meals on his good old uncle Mario Rodriguez. He threw in his cell phone as a bonus. All the lucky couple had to do was use Mario's credit card, Sam so graciously gave them to fill up, buy their food, and register at the hotel of their choice under the name Robert Plant. Sam fed them a lie about being in an intricate role playing game. Dean gave his brother credit. It was a much better plan than the Key West deal.
"You believe me now when I tell you the kid is fine?" Caleb looked at Dean. "Better than fine. He's obviously on top of his game."
"So much for Dad's theory about Sam not paying attention to his hunting lessons." Dean gripped the steering wheel trying to accept the fact his little brother was alive, well, and had gotten the upper hand.
"Sam listens to everything John says. He's his best student in ways, although the lessons he's learning are the ones Johnny didn't bank on. "
"He's been watching us, too." Dean called Caleb as soon as he realized his brother was missing, needing assurance Sam was not dead, which had been Dean's go to gut reaction. Caleb could sense Sam was alive and conscious, which left one alternative. Sam had made a run for it.
"Giving that guy his jacket and the snowflake obsidian was smart." Caleb held his gaze. "I was picking up an echo of him. It gave validity to the paper trail he left for us, and the cell phone signal was the cherry on top. We should have known it was too damn easy. "
"You don't call him Einstein for nothing." Dean rested his head on the seat. He suspected the truth from the beginning when he went to pick up Sam from school Friday afternoon. Dean waited in the parking lot for almost thirty minutes before going inside.
It had become their routine over the last week, Sam making him come to him. He expected to find his geek of a brother in the library buried under Calculus notes. Sam's usual spot was empty. He was nowhere in the school.
The ruse gave Sam an eight and a half hour head start. Fifteen hours, if you counted the time it took Caleb to get to Mississippi, where Dean had orders to wait until the older hunter could meet him. Psychic link or not, the future Knight was not willing to completely rule out foul play. Now they had lost six more hours finding and following the trail of bread crumbs Sam had left for them. Dean's little brother had been gone almost twenty two hours and counting.
"This all tells us one thing."
Dean sighed. "He's been planning this for weeks, at least since you and I started talking about the chupacabra hunt."
"He knew when your old man would go to South Dakota, prepping for the right moon phase."
Dean rubbed a hand down his face. "We're going to have one hell of a hard time finding him."
"We'll have to double back to Springfield, see if I can pick up the psychic thread."
"I didn't think you could do that unless Sam was in close vicinity? There's no chance of that now. He'll be long gone."
"I can drop all my blocks to extend my range." Caleb fiddled with his hunter's band. "Sort of like sifting through sand, but it might work."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Dean understood enough about Caleb's abilities to know his friend could track them within a certain range, but there were limits to what he could do, to what he should do.
"You got a better plan? Sam went to a lot of trouble to give us the slip. I doubt he's left any other clues for us to find. He may think he's smart, but he's just opened himself up to a whole different kind of threat. Sixteen or not, there are people out there just as evil as any creature we hunt."
"I know." Dean and his father might have exposed Sam to the horrors behind the curtain, but he had been protected from many of life's more typical elements. "I just don't need anyone else going off half-cocked-losing their heads."
"Don't worry about me, Deana." Caleb stopped spinning his ring, gave Dean a half smile. "I'll make sure Sam knows exactly how bad it sucked for me when we find him."
"You'll have to get in line." Dean turned his gaze to the windshield as the first fat drops of rain splashed against the glass. The afternoon had grown gray and cooler, mirroring Dean's spiraling feelings. "He played me like a violin."
"Dude, this isn't about you. Sam's bucking your old man's rule. It was bound to happen."
"Dad gives orders for a reason." Dean understood their father's primary agenda; it was one he agreed with.
"You're preaching to the choir. I want Sam to know when to follow orders, especially if he's going to hunt with us, but Sam's not interested in being a smart soldier. He wants a civilian life, and as long as there is a threat out there, Johnny's never going to be on board with that."
"At least I know now why he faked sick to get out of the werewolf hunt with Dad and why he was so gung-ho for me to go on that hunt with you." Dean thought back to the argument he and his brother had a few nights before. Sam was angry Dean was staying with him instead of going through with the gig he'd planned with Damien. He gave his upcoming sixteenth birthday as proof he was capable of taking care of himself. "He wanted me to ignore Dad's orders. He said Dad would never find out."
"He was trying to guilt you into going. He knows your buttons, man." Caleb gave him a pointed look that let Dean know he was reading his thoughts."Sam could manipulate with the best of them by age two. It's one of those unplanned lessons Johnny modeled for him."
Sam didn't have to work hard to make his brother feel guilty. Dean knew he was supposed to go on the hunt with Caleb, and if Sam stayed home, he'd be pulling babysitting duty. Still, the thoughts of what his father and Bobby were planning for Sam with the werewolf gig made the choice easy. He backed Sam up on the sick lie. As usual, Caleb let him off the hook. "If you'd shown up, Deuce, I would have sent your ass back to Springfield."
"That's what I told Sam you'd say." Sam's rebuttal was to paint a very vivid picture of all the possible fallouts of John's orders. None of them ended well for Caleb. Looking back now, he saw his brother was desperate to get rid of him, desperate enough to use Dean's fears against him. "He made it clear Dad sending you with Ian and fisher was a bad idea."
"Johnny knew I could handle Fisher, Ian and the fucking chupacabra. The kid should have known pulling the whole sick routine wasn't going to score him a stay at home free card."
"They were setting up Sam's first hard kill."
"I figured." Caleb ran a hand through his hair. "Johnny's tightening the reins, and as much as I hated when it happened to you, it's necessary if Sam's going to stay in the game. Every man has to get past that point."
Dean started the car, needing to feel as if he was at least doing something productive to find Sam. "Necessary or not, it will make Sam hate hunting even more."
"Your old man doesn't see it that way. He thinks this will be Sam's baptismal, the point of no return. He's putting him through the paces that will save his life that will help Sam watch your back in the field."
"Do you think Sam knew?" Dean turned on the highway back to Springfield. He hadn't discussed the upcoming solo hunt with his brother. "Maybe I should have talked with him about it. It could be why he ran."
"I think Sam is smart enough to get out while the getting is good. You know what that first human kill does. Johnny's thinking isn't completely flawed. It's definitely a defining moment. Talking about it won't make it any easier."
"You think I should have pushed for him to go with Dad and Bobby?" Dean felt guilty about the argument with his brother, for not talking to him about the werewolf hunt. Maybe if he had explained, Sam wouldn't have taken such a risk. Dean wanted to believe Sam was running from the job, not him.
"I'm not exactly impartial."
"You're all I got."
Caleb sighed. "Honestly, if I'd known what John and Bobby were up to when they took you for your first werewolf gig, I'd probably have booked us both the hell out of there. I would have been wrong, but I still would have done it."
"Why doesn't that make me feel better?"
"Because either way you're screwed. This wasn't something you could control. Your little brother threw you under the bus to save himself." Caleb gave Dean a grin to soften the sharp edge of truth. "And he used perfect John Winchester strategy to do it."
"Right after we find him." Caleb folded his arms over his chest. "As soon as he's safe, we make him wish he'd never tried to run with the big dogs."
"You're assuming we can find him." Dean had a very bad feeling about their prospects.
"This is us we're talking about, Deuce. We've hunted things much scarier and smarter than your little brother."
"I hope you're right, Damien."
"I am. Trust me. By this time tomorrow the kid will be giving us his best 'Sammy face', begging for mercy."
A week and a half of looking without so much as a trace of Sam diminished Caleb's confidence. It also cooled Dean's anger at his brother, twisting it into something much more primal and consuming. Raw fear and sheer panic were setting in. Desperation wasn't far behind.
"Maybe we should call Mac." Dean sat on one of the beds in the latest Hilton where they'd stopped to sleep, Caleb's Rewards Card building points with each city they visited. Houston was the latest. They'd searched the seedier side, spreading out into the suburbs with no luck. "He could give us a clue as to where to start."
Sam was sixteen, but looked older. He'd taken several fake ID's that offered him endless opportunities at places that wouldn't ask too many questions. It made sense Sam would head for a metropolitan area where it was easier to disappear and blend in, but there were countless cities, and the last five they had visited offered Caleb no evidence Sam was nearby.
"We already talked about this, man." Caleb kept the pillow over his head, his voice muffled. "Dad will call John. He won't think twice. Triad protocol, and there's the whole parental unity thing."
Dean rested his elbows on his knees, keeping his eyes on his friend. Caleb's psychic angling was a bust, the telepathic net he was casting garnering no game. They had no leads and it was making Caleb sick. No hunting contacts had panned out, either. Sam was too smart to reach out to anyone who might be connected to their father, which meant he would have to rely on strangers. That added a whole unknown element. "What about Pastor Jim?"
"You want to call The Guardian?" Caleb lifted the pillow, throwing it off the bed as he rose to his elbows. "Now I know you're not thinking straight. What's the pastor going to do besides pray and order us to call Mac, who will then proceed to call John. See my earlier note. "
Dean raked a hand through his hair, not believing what he was about to suggest. "Maybe it's time we call Dad."
"What happened to 'Dad can never know about this, Damien'?" Caleb moved slowly, bringing his legs over the side of the bed. "That sounded like a smart plan to me."
"He'll be pissed, yeah. But at least Sam will be safe." Their dad would crack down on Sam even harder, but nothing would be worse than losing Sam for good. His dad could call Mac, or Jim would put out an all points Guardian alert. They'd do their thing and Sam would be home where he belonged.
"Safe? No one's going to be safe if John finds out what Sam pulled. It will make the last few months between them look like a peaceful sit in at the senior citizen's center. Guess who is going to get caught in all that flying mortar?" Caleb shook his head, his face draining of color as he did. "The answer is hell no."
"Dad's not going to go on a rampage, Dude."
Dean could tell by the way his friend's hands fisted in the down comforter the pain pills hadn't kicked in. "Are we talking about the same John Winchester? Because I'm thinking of the former Marine Corporal, The Knight of The Brotherhood? My superior, who by all protocol I should have called as soon as I realized his son was missing. I've broken seven kinds of rules, not to mention The Guardian's trust. If you've completely lost all sense of self-preservation, you should at least consider your best friend."
"Really, Damien?" Dean rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You're worried about Jim taking your ring?"
"It's not my ring I'm worried about losing," Caleb ground out. "Your dad will go fucking ape shit if we call him now. Sam's ass won't be the only one he's gunning for. I'll be banned from Winchester land indefinitely. I've already made plans for the summer. Remember our two week tour of the best baseball stadiums? What good is an early birthday present if you don't make it to see twenty-one? I've already bought the tickets. They're non-refundable."
Dean was in no mood for humor. He understood Caleb's concern, but couldn't get past his own overwhelming fear for Sam. "It's been ten days, Dude! Ten fucking days and we know nothing more than we did when Sam left Springfield. He didn't take a weapon. He's never been on his own this long. We don't know what could be out there lurking waiting for the moment when Sam is unprotected."
"Sam's smart, well-trained, and on his way to Sasquatch status. He took a stupid risk. It was a bonehead move on his part, but that's part of being a teenager. You remember sixteen? He did the logistics without considering the consequences. The most important thing is we know he's alive and he's not hurt. We still have time."
"Really? We know that for sure?" Dean was shouting now, the lack of rest and worry eating away at his last reserves of patience. "Because not more than an hour ago my psychic wonder of a best friend was worshipping at the porcelain god, praying for his head to just go ahead and fall off. I hate to break it to you but the Gatorade and Vicodin cocktail hasn't helped that much. You still look ready to keel over, so forgive me if I'm inclined to take your telepathic assurances with a grain of salt."
"Trust me when I say a migraine sure as hell isn't going to stop a death vision. My abilities don't care if I'm in top form or not." Caleb glared at Dean, keeping his voice lowered as if raising decibels would be fatal. "A headache won't keep the nightmares away either, not the kind I have when you or Sam are hurt. Sam is not in danger, Dean. He's not hurt, he's not in pain. If anything, I get the feeling he's mellow, the kind of peace I've not sensed from him since before he hit puberty."
Dean deflated, his irritation at Caleb fleeting, making room for the anger at his brother to rush back in. This was a bit of information his friend had left out. "So the bastard is basically on vacation?"
"Either that or he bought a couple of nickel bags of weed from his friend he hired to lay the false trail."
"Great." Dean rubbed his eyes. "I should have let you give him the 'just say no' speech you gave me." Dean was beginning to realize there were a lot of things he shouldn't have shielded his brother from. The real world was just as dangerous as the supernatural realm they lived in.
"A lot of good that would have done." Caleb snorted. "You take instruction better than your brother. "
"That goes without saying." Dean would have never pulled a stunt like this.
"I remember a time when you ran away, Deuce. All the way to Alabama-bound and determined you had had enough of hunting." Caleb rubbed his temples. "Let's not forget how well Johnny reacted to that little act of insubordination. It was months before we saw you again."
"I was a kid, and stop reading me. You need all the psychic brain cells you have left." Dean had one weekend of normal before a reluctant Caleb returned him to the farm. At least Dean had run to family. Sam never considered it. His father had been livid, but they had all survived, and Dean had learned a very important lesson. One he had tried to convey to his brother. Challenging their father was rarely a good idea. It was better to assume that John Winchester was always right.
"You thought about it again when you were eighteen." Caleb kicked his boot when Dean started to shake his head in denial. "I saw the look in your eye when we were at LSU. I'm not reading you now, and I wasn't reading you then. I just know you. Things changed after that disaster of a camping trip, but you can't tell me the prospect of running away again, even if it was to college, wasn't tempting if even for only a little while. "
"That kind of life isn't part of our world." The trip to LSU was monumental, but the week Dean had spent alone before meeting up with Caleb was paramount. His Dad thought he was with his protégé; Caleb was finishing up a Tri-Corp project. It was sort of a dry run for Dean, who had just graduated high school. He was eighteen, and doors should have been opening up for him. Instead, Dean found himself closing off any opportunity for a future away from hunting. He appreciated Caleb's attempt to offer him an out, a dip into the normal end of the pool Mac had given his son, but Dean's father made it clear where Dean's loyalties should lie. Family came first. In the end, he'd made his own choice. That choice was to stay home where he was needed; home was and would always be his brother and father.
"That sounds like Johnny talking."
"It should. I've had to listen to his argument about priorities and loyalty a hundred times over the last year."
"You're the last person who needs to hear that fucking speech, Deuce."
Dean swallowed hard, recognizing the quick flash of emotion in his friend's eyes. Anger and regret battled for dominance, pity lurking in the background. He didn't want Damien to feel sorry for him. "You know Sam doesn't take no for answer easily. He expects an exposition, a debate. "
"Why always was Sammy's favorite word. Soldiers don't have that luxury." Caleb brought his hands back to the mattress, one arm resting across his stomach. "The corporal likes his men to fall in line quickly. 'Yes sir' is his creed. I'm not saying he's right about a lot of things, but John understands survival. In battle, there is no room for discussion. Your old man isn't going to back down until Sam yields. This is only going to add fuel to the fire. We need to stick to our original plan. Find the runt, set him straight on a few hundred things, and never ever breathe a word of this to any of The Triad."
"I'm sorry, Dude. I should have never gotten you involved." Dean knew exactly what he was doing when he called Caleb, just as he'd known that day so many years ago when he'd run to Auburn. Caleb would do whatever it took to help him find Sam, despite what it might cost him. Dean had not considered they might not find Sam. It was beginning to look like Plan A and B were out the window, plan C unraveling just as fast.
"Yeah, well that's what I get for always spouting that whole 'all for one and one for all' bullshit." Caleb picked his pillow up and tossed it back on the bed. "I'm in this until the messy end. But I got to tell you, man, brotherhood has its downside."
"You can say that again." Dean pointed to the bottle of Gatorade on the night stand. "Drink up, Damien. We have a long day tomorrow."
"Does that mean you're going to sleep tonight?"
"You're not going to be any good to Sam if you're out on your feet."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Pot meet kettle."
Caleb grabbed the Gatorade, making a show of taking a long drink before relaxing against the pillows. "I can guarantee you wherever Sammy is he's getting a good night's rest, probably sleeping until noon, gorging himself on takeout and watching porn."
"Dude, that's what you would do." Dean lay down on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He was afraid to close his eyes. Caleb might be nightmare free, but Dean was not. Any assurance Sam was safe went out the window when his subconscious took over. "Sam's not like us, which probably explains why we haven't been able to find the little bitch."
"What would you do, Deuce?" Caleb yawned, his voice husky as the painkillers finally kicked in. "If you could have a solid week of freedom -where would you head to?"
"Hell if I know, Damien." Dean would never have to worry about that. "Maybe the Grand Canyon."
"Right." Caleb muttered. "The typical family's dream vacation destination."
"Too bad nothing about our fucking lives is typical." Dean stretched for the light, plunging them into somewhat darkness, the glow of the emergency lights still visible outside. He felt better knowing there was a light on, just in case Sam wanted to come home.
The call came two days later. Caleb was in the shower, having taken first dibs while Dean went out for their breakfast. Dean had just set the bags down, tossing his keys on the table. He looked at the phone for a moment, his stomach lurching at the familiar number. He heard the water turn off and Caleb pop his head out the door, hair dripping.
It was the last ring before voicemail. He cleared his throat, steeling himself for the storm. "Hi Dad." After this it was going to get complicated. Dean wondered how long he should evade his father. It lasted less than a minute.
"How's your brother?"
Caleb had grabbed a towel, tied it around his waist. Dean closed his eyes. "Sam?"
"You have another brother, Ace?"
His father had used his nickname - so infrequent as of late. He sounded like he was in a good mood. The hunt must have ended well. Dean exchanged a look with Caleb, the psychic made a slashing sign across his neck. There would be no good time to deliver the news. "Dad, Sam ran away."
Dean eased the phone away from his ear. Caleb dropped his chin to his chest. "He ran away from Springfield."
"Twelve days ago." It sounded so much worse saying it out loud.
"We're in Wyoming, outside of Laramie. We think we have a lead-" The lead was a possible Sam sighting by a hunter out in Denver, but John didn't give Dean a chance to tell him. His father didn't appear to hear anything past the first word out of Dean's mouth.
"I have a lead," he tried again, correcting his misspeak. He could at least try and give Damien an out.
"You and your buddy Caleb stay where you are. I'm coming to you."
Dean put the phone down after he had given his father their location. "Gig's up. Dad's on his way."
"I heard." Caleb propped his hands on his hips, eyeing their duffels and the box of pizza. "There's always Europe, or somewhere tropical. If you'd brave a flight, I think you'd really like Bora Bora, or maybe Fiji."
"A getaway is not in my future, Dude. You on the other hand can make a break for it-some sun and bikini action would probably clear your migraines right up."
Caleb turned and started back towards the bathroom. "The runt is so not getting a birthday present from me this year."
They stayed in the room most of the day, shared a pizza and a six pack, watching a Sox game that went into overtime. Dean was the last one to fall asleep, and the first to wake at the pounding on the door. He left his weapon under his pillow, already recognizing the bellow of his name coming from outside. His father didn't give him time to say a word as he charged into the room, the door sounding like a shotgun blast as it was slammed closed. John's hands fisted in Dean's shirt, the older hunter's momentum carried them across the room.
Caleb was on his feet, but not quick enough. John rammed Dean roughly against the far wall. "Where the hell were you?"
Lights exploded as Dean's skull connected with sheetrock. He didn't have time to process what his father was asking him, let alone answer, as he was jerked forward and slammed into the wall again.
Brightness flooded the room and it took a second for Dean to realize it was because Caleb had turned the overhead light on, and not the stars exploding before his eyes from the blow to the head.
"Did you hear me, Dean?" John's angry shouts joined the ringing in Dean's ears for an unpleasant cacophony that made it impossible to think. He reached for his father's wrists, steadying himself more than attempting to evade the crushing grip. John gave him another hard shake. "Where the hell were you when your brother disappeared?"
"John! Let him go!" Caleb's voice was angry and close by. "Get your fucking hands off him."
"Dad, listen a minute…" Dean finally managed to get his mouth to work. The sudden sharp pain was unexpected, the shock factor of the act far more powerful than the actual punch. Still, it hurt like hell. Dean's head snapped back. He brought a hand to his mouth, tasting blood.
"You sonofabitch!" Caleb roared.
Dean heard the crash more than saw the blur of a tackle. He blinked his father and Caleb into focus. They were rolling on the floor, having overturned the desk and chair in their scuffle. His attention was momentarily torn between stopping the waging battle and the door to their room, which was once again, banged open. Dean had never been happier to see Bobby Singer's grim face.
"Damnit, John!" The mechanic charged into the room. "I fucking told you to wait on me."
Dean moved for his best friend, who was straddling John, both fists swinging. "Damien, don't!"
Caleb didn't listen, delivering another punch.
"Get the fuck off me," his father growled, connecting another fist with Caleb's face.
Caleb lashed out again. Dean struggled to get a hold of him, pulling him off of his father before someone got hurt, and the people next door called the cops.
"Damien. Let it go. It's over."
Caleb let Dean pull him up, but John didn't get to his feet. Instead he rolled over, curling into himself. Dean kept a firm grip on Caleb, taking them a few safe steps back as he waited for his father to rebound. His Dad struggled to his knees.
"Don't you ever lay a hand on him!" Caleb jerked away from Dean, stumbling towards John again. He loomed over the downed hunter, keeping himself between them.
"Back off!" Bobby called out.
Caleb didn't budge. He held one arm out where Dean couldn't get past him.
Realization set in as Dean watched his father's face redden. "Shit, Damien." Dean gripped his best friend's arm. "Stop it!" Caleb had used his abilities on his mentor.
Finally, Caleb stepped back, turned to face Dean as Bobby got John to his feet. "Are you alright, Deuce?"
"I'm good." Dean wasn't sure it was true. The adrenaline rushing through his body was surely masking the pain in his head, his aching jaw, and his shock.
Caleb pointed to Dean's face. "You're bleeding."
"So are you."
"I told you this wouldn't end well." Caleb ran the back of his hand under his nose. "We should have gone to Fiji like I said."
"You should have fucking called me!" John was on his feet with Bobby's help. "My son is missing, you little shit."
"Dad, we have a lead-"
"You, no talking, unless I ask you a question." He jabbed a finger at Dean, his fury still in control. Dean knew the long drive through the night, the more time he had to think about what he and Caleb had kept from him had not helped the situation. Dean had made the wrong choice from the start. "This happened on your watch. You know better than this. Sam is your responsibility-the only thing I ask from you!"
Dean had never seen his father so angry, not even in his most heated arguments with Sam. This was worse than he imagined. His head pounded in time with his heartbeat racing wildly inside his chest. He felt sick, swallowing hard to keep the bile down.
"This was not Dean's fault, Johnny, and you damn well know it." Caleb took a step forward. "The last time I checked you're Sam's father. He's been trying to talk to you for months. This is all on you."
"Junior, you better quit now, because you were never ahead." John moved so he was toe to toe with his protégé. He shoved him. "I don't know what the hell is wrong with you, but it's two steps forward-ten steps back."
"Sun Tzu would say the fault lies in the teacher." Caleb shoved back. "Take a long look in the mirror."
Bobby put a restraining hand between them, muscling in front of John. "Cool off! Both of you."
"We need be looking for Sam, not fighting with each other." The withering look of disappointment on his father's face made Dean more desperate to find his brother, to fix things before it all fell apart. Dean had dropped his guard, and the people he loved most were suffering because of it.
"Now, you get your priorities straight?" John looked at his son. "Let's hope it's not too late to save your brother."
A wave of heat rushed through Dean, his stomach flip-flopping as he broke out in a cold sweat. It was either retreat to the bathroom, or be sick in front of his father. Dean didn't need one more thing to be ashamed of. He didn't close the door, barely managing to make it to the toilet before the pizza and beer made a spectacular return.
"You are such a fucking bastard," He could hear Caleb, still pissed and begging for round two. Dean wasn't up for the next bout, grateful when Bobby interceded.
"Goddamnit, Junior. Shut your mouth and go take care of Dean. Now, before I black your other eye."
"Fucking, fucked up ass holes!" Caleb slammed the door, the echo of it like a spike through Dean's skull. There would be complaints to the front desk in the morning. They would be long gone before then. His stomach rebelled again, leaving Dean panting over the cool rim of the commode. "Shit like this never happened in the book."
Dean wasn't sure if his best friend was alluding to the mythical Hunter's Handbook or Dumas's Three Musketeers. He didn't have the energy to ask, too focused on taking deep, slow breaths to avoid throwing up again. In some ways Caleb was as naïve as Sam.
"Fuck being The Knight." Caleb continued his tirade. Dean heard the water turn on. He decided it was safe to move, reaching up to flush the commode. "None of this is worth it," Caleb said the last part so quietly Dean barely made it out.
He turned around, wedging himself between the bowl and the tub so it took little effort on his part to stay upright. The cold porcelain cleared some of the mental fog. "You don't mean that, Damien." Caleb needed to believe in The Brotherhood as much as Dean needed for him to.
Caleb came over, sitting on the edge of the tub. He folded the wet wash cloth in his hand and gently pressed it to Dean's busted lip. Dean forced himself not to flinch. "Tonight I do, Deuce."
He waited for Dean to take the makeshift compress before moving back to the sink for a glass of water, and the first aid kit they'd placed there when they arrived to the hotel. Dean tracked his movement as he made his way back to him. Blood dripped from a gash over Caleb's left eye, his cheek was already swelling. He winced as he bent over to hand Dean the glass of water. His hand shook slightly, but so did Dean's when he reached out for the water. Neither met the other's gaze.
Dean took a drink, the cool water soothing to his burning throat. He closed his eyes, hoping the liquid stayed down. "It's just one night, man."
Caleb joined him on the floor, placing the kit in between them. "One hell of a night.
The touch to his head had Dean forcing his eyes open wide. Caleb was staring at him, concern, not fury, furrowing his brow. "How's your head?"
Dean's mouth twitched. "Nothing broken."
Caleb snorted, running his fingers over the back of Dean's skull. "Do you feel dizzy? How's your vision?"
"Dude…" Dean shoved Caleb's hand away, the close quarters and mother hen routine leaving him feeling cornered and even more like an idiot. He needed to regain some ground. "I'm fine. My head's reinforced steel. Remember?"
"You don't get to decide when you're fine. Remember?" Caleb ignored him, grabbing his chin to hold him steady so he could look at his pupils. "Johnny used your head for a battering ram. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't at least do Mac's rudimentary check. You get that, right?"
Dean's stomach gave another lurch. Duty was a loaded word in their world, one that held a meaning Webster's couldn't begin to touch. He curled his arm around his midsection and allowed Caleb his moment of reassurance. It was the least he could do. Dean hadn't expected his father to hit him, or to end up in a brawl with his protégé. "He's worried about Sammy, Damien. He's scared. You get that, right? "
"That wasn't worried or scared." Caleb released his chin, digging in the kit. He came out with a bottle of the good pain meds. "That was off the rocker, bull in the china shop, crazy."
"He has a right to be pissed." Dean felt the irrepressible urge to defend his father.
"He doesn't have a right to hit you. Ever!" Caleb put the pills in his hand, satisfied Dean wasn't suffering from a concussion. He took out two ice packs and snapped them, handing them to Dean. "What if it had been Sam he laid into? Would you be so quick to justify that?"
Dean opened his mouth, but stopped short of saying the first thing that sprang to mind. His Dad would never hit Sam because Dean would not allow it to happen. He recognized the Jim Murphy circular logic Caleb was using and wisely remained silent.
"That's what I thought," Caleb growled. "It better not happen again."
"Dude, I dropped the ball. Sam is missing!" Dean tossed the wash cloth away, exchanging it for one of the cold packs. He dry swallowed the two capsules. "Dad's right. It's my job to watch him. Besides, I've had a hell of lot worse sparring with you."
"That wasn't sparring, and we both know it's not the bruises I'm worried about."
"I can take care of myself, Damien. I'm a big boy." Dean had made the choice to deceive his father, taking his lumps like a good soldier.
"So is Sam! He's almost sixteen years old. I know you love him and you want to protect him, but I have some bad news for you, kiddo-you can't control what he does forever." Caleb dug out the antibiotic ointment and butterfly bandages. "You can't make decisions for him. Trust me. If that were possible, you'd be in college right now, hitting balls out of the park, instead of being knocked around by your pig headed old man."
They stared at each other for a long moment, silence echoing their stalemate. Finally, Dean glanced towards the door. "What do you think they're doing? Can you read them?"
"They're calling Mac." Caleb sighed, using an antiseptic wipe to dab at the cut over his eye. "He'll have something of Sam's he can use to get a reading. Maybe give us a clue."
"What do you think Dad's going to do when he finds him?" Dean brought his eyes back to his friend, watching as Caleb tried to stop the bleeding over his eye.
"I don't know." Caleb brought his hand back to his lap where he twisted the lid off the antibiotic salve. "But I'm not going to be caught off guard again."
"This is Dad we're talking about, man. He's not the enemy."
"My black eye and your busted lip tell a different story." Caleb smeared ointment on the wound, tossing the wipe in the garbage. "In my book, Johnny's gone rogue."
"You said it yourself, Damien. We broke seven kinds of rules and Dad's trust." He waited for Caleb to look at him. "He's trying to protect his family, that's all."
Bobby interrupted Caleb's reply with his entrance. "Tweetle Dumb and Tweetle Dumber, we're leaving in ten."
"Mac saw something?" Dean pushed himself up from the floor, taking a seat on the lid of the toilet.
Bobby closed the door behind him, his presence taking up what little space was left in the tiny room. Three grown men in a tiny bathroom was ridiculous, a great intro for one of the raunchy jokes Dean was so fond of. "He saw something alright."
"What?" Caleb lifted himself to the rim of the bathtub.
Bobby took the butterfly bandages from him. "The U.S. Naval Observatory."
"You heard me. The Scholar was certain."
"That's near Flagstaff," Dean said.
"Sam's at The Grand Canyon? You're fucking kidding me." Caleb tried to look at Dean, but Bobby gripped his chin, holding him steady as he put the first strip in place over his eye.
"I'm not exactly in the joking mood, Rocky Balboa."
"The Grand Canyon's close by, along with The Painted Desert and Petrified Forrest. I always wanted to go there as a kid." Dean had ignored his gut, going for the logical. His brother was hiding in plain sight, in a place Dean would have chosen for himself.
"Well, you should get your wish by morning, but I wouldn't be counting on any scenic tours of the Observatory." Bobby inclined his head as he finished dressing Caleb's wound. "You two already got your souvenirs courtesy of Father of the Year."
"We're going with you." Caleb folded his arms over his chest. It was a statement more than a question.
"Dude, maybe that's not such a good idea." As much as Dean would like the backup, he wondered if trying to appease his father alone wouldn't be for the best. Dean could calm him down before they made it to Sam.
"Maybe I should recheck you for a concussion." Caleb glared at Dean.
"Both of you save your breath," Bobby growled. "In light of the most recent circumstances I made sure The Knight agreed to company."
"Yeah, because The Knight's such an agreeable guy." Caleb touched the bandage above his eye.
"I outsmarted him. You two geniuses should try using your heads for something besides target practice once in awhile."
"Because thinking things through rationally while a wild grizzly charges through our camp is exactly what you trained us to do."
Bobby ignored Caleb, tossing the leftover medical supplies in the kit. "Finish getting cleaned up, and keep your mouths shut during the trip. Don't give The Knight anymore ammunition." Bobby made eye contact with them before he left.
"What do you think he used against Dad?"
"Knowing Bobby, it's bound to be dirty and diabolical." Caleb went to the sink to wash his hands.
"Something Jim and The Brotherhood would never approve of." Dean watched his friend in the mirror, looking for hints Damien might have gleaned a clue from the mechanic, or already had an idea of the truth.
"Don't look so disappointed, Deuce. The more scandalous the secret Bobby knows on your old man, the better chance you and Sammy both make it to his sweet sixteen."
If he had an inclination, Caleb wasn't saying. Dean understood all about keeping things from those you loved in the hopes of protecting them. "Do you think Sam will be ready to come home?"
"It doesn't matter, Deuce." Caleb turned, giving his shoulder a brief squeeze before opening the door. "John will see that he does one way or the other."
Dean sighed, knowing the older hunter was right. He closed his eyes wishing he could fast forward real life, speed them a few weeks in the future when things would settle down. There was always a honeymoon phase after the worst of his brother's and father's fights, although the lulls were fewer and farther between these days. As it was, the drive to Arizona was arduous, as dry and relentless as the heat of the desert they were traveling through.
Dean had spoken to his father only about their game plan. Even then, his side of the conversation had consisted of 'yes, sir', and 'you're right, sir'.
"You with me, Deuce?"
"I'm here." Dean broke his gaze to the backside of the ugly tan stucco building. "You sure Sammy's in there?"
"Alive. Well. And perfectly content." Caleb rested against a tree, his arms casually crossed over his chest. Dean could see past the lax stance, knowing Caleb was primed for what was about to happen. "I almost hate to break up the happy moment."
Once they hit Sedona, Caleb had a strong connection with Sam. He led them straight to The Canyon Inn, a little motel within walking distance of quaint downtown Flagstaff. The place was off the radar for most tourists. It rented rooms by the week to drifters, lumber jacks and construction workers. Sam fell into the latter, apparently having scored a job with a nearby crew.
"It won't last much longer."
"Bobby won't let him do anything to Sam."
Dean glanced back to the motel, watching the back door of apartment three. He had wanted to go in the front with his father, but John had ordered him and Caleb to watch the back. John had let them off down the street, so they could circle behind. Sometimes it struck him as ridiculous that he and Caleb were grown men, and still taking orders from his father. Dean wasn't sure if it was credit to John's training or a testament to his and Caleb's shared fear-the terror of what they stood to lose if they didn't fall in line. "Sam will make a run for it."
"You the psychic now?"
Dean heard the familiar growl of the Impala, before his black car appeared in the side parking lot. "I'm just listening to my gut." He had learned his lesson. Dean knew Sam, better than Sam knew himself.
As if to prove his point, Sam bolted out the back way, backpack snug to him. Dean figured he had the pack ready to go upon hearing the Impala. His father and Bobby had not made it to the front door, yet. Dean rushed forward, trying not to alert his father, enveloping Sam into a hug, more for the connection and relief, than restraint.
"No place to run, Runt," Caleb stepped toward the brothers.
"Dean, let me go." Sam was still struggling.
Dean released him from the hug, but kept a hand on his arm, standing his ground. "I can't do that, Sam."
"I wasn't asking." Sam puffed up, attempting to sidestep Dean. He jerked his arm free. "I'm leaving."
"No, you're not." Caleb moved so he was blocked. "You're just going to piss your old man off worse. There's no where you can go that John won't find you."
"You just had to come after me!" Sam dropped his bag, turning his fierce gaze on Dean. "You couldn't let me have this one thing, this one summer."
"I'm not the one who took off," Dean replied. "You can't pin this one on me."
"You ran straight to Dad." Sam clenched his fists. "Just like I knew you would. God, you're just like them."
"If I'd gone straight to Dad you wouldn't have had your two week vacation." Dean was beginning to realize he was not the son most like their father. "I tried to find you, to keep your stupid ass stunt from Dad. If you would have just talked to me…"
"Yeah, it looks like you tried real hard."
"You didn't exactly make it easy on him," Caleb said. "But I guess that was the point."
"He was supposed to go with you!" Sam turned to Caleb. "Dean was too busy obeying Dad's orders to watch his best friend's back."
"Obeying orders didn't get him the busted lip and the bruises." Caleb reached out and grabbed the front of the teen's jacket, jerking him forward. "It didn't get me a black eye."
"Damien." Dean didn't think Caleb would act on his earlier threat to take his frustration out on Sam, but this was all unchartered territory.
"So you went on that hunt after all?" Sam pried Caleb's hands off him, Caleb allowed. Dean realized in his brother's mind it seemed hunting came before family. It was one of those lessons John had unknowingly imparted. It wasn't true, especially where Dean was concerned. Sam was his priority. Family always came first. He believed their father felt the same way.
"No, we've been looking for you!" Caleb cuffed Sam on the side of the head. "John didn't agree with our plan."
Sam turned his gaze on Dean. Dean recognized the genuine surprise, anger fading as Sam took a small step towards him. "Dad hit you?"
Dean sighed. "Sammy, why didn't you tell me you didn't want to do the werewolf hunt? I would have talked to you about it. The first human kill is a hard gig, but we could have gotten through it."
"What are you talking about?" Sam frowned. "I didn't care about Dad's werewolf hunt, except that it was the perfect time to leave. I took my finals early, that's why I was studying all the time. I had it all planned out."
Dean felt as if he had caught another dirty punch, this time to the gut. Sam had no clue what his father and Bobby were planning in South Dakota.
Sam reached out and touched Dean's face. "I can't believe he hit you."
"What did you think was going to happen?" Dean thought he understood, but he wanted Sam to say it.
"I thought I'd have the summer to get things set up, you'd see it could work for us, without Dad, without hunting." Sam's dark eyes glistened. "In a few weeks I was going to call Pastor Jim and tell him where I was, so he could tell you."
"In the mean time you'd let your brother and the rest of us think you were missing-maybe dead." Caleb rolled his eyes. "That plans sucks, Runt."
"I was just going to give Dad some time to cool down. I knew you could sense I wasn't hurt. Dean would call you first thing and you would tell him I was fine."
"Again, that plan sucks."
Sam looked to Dean. "I wanted you to come, Dean. It's why I picked Flagstaff. You've always wanted to come here. "
"And what…we'd live happily ever after." Dean stepped out of Sam's reach, torn between calling bullshit and hoping that his little brother was telling the truth.
"Yes. We'd be safe, normal." Sam moved closer, grabbing his brother's sleeve. "Please, Dean. It can work. I almost made it work."
"Sam, we can't live in your version of some witness protection program." Dean decided Sam was earnest, but gullible as Dean had been when he considered going to LSU. "What about Dad? He's our family, too."
"You're my family, Dean." Sam let him go, brushing a hand over his eyes, erasing the tears threatening to fall. "Dad can go to Hell."
"Speak of the devil," Caleb gave them a heads up.
"Sam!" Their father came from the back of the building carrying a black garbage bag. "We're leaving."
"No." Sam turned to face their dad. "I have a job here. Commitments. I can't just leave. I won't."
"Sam." Dean moved so he was slightly ahead of his brother, blocking him from their father's full on wrath. "For once just keep your mouth shut."
"I took care of the job." John stopped a few feet from his sons, tossing the rest of Sam's things at his feet. "They won't be expecting you on Monday. Bobby took the dog next door to your nosy neighbors. You will go get in the Impala, or I will make a scene your construction buddies won't soon forget."
Sam scooped up his backpack and the garbage bag. "You can't watch me every minute of the day."
"I won't have to. That's going to be your brother's job." Dean looked up as his father pointed a finger at him. "You aren't to leave the apartment, no hunts, no dates," his father glanced at Caleb. "No friends. I'll expect a report on every move Sam makes for the next three months. I want written record of it all-from the time he wakes up right up until he falls asleep. Your brother doesn't take a piss without you holding his hand and logging it afterwards. You understand me?"
Dean nodded. "Yes, sir."
"I hate you," Sam growled, stomping towards the parking lot.
John watched his son go. ""I'm not liking you too much these days either, Sam."
"Wait a minute," Caleb intervened.
The Knight growled. "That sentiment goes double for you, Junior."
Dean sighed, wishing Caleb would take his earlier advice to Sam, and keep his damn mouth shut. It wasn't going to happen.
"Dean didn't do anything! He's the one you're punishing. We have plans this summer. The ballparks…you promised us two weeks."
"And you got them." John folded his arms over his chest. "Too bad you chose to spend them the way you did."
"Don't do this, John. I was senior hunter in charge. I should have called you as soon as I knew Sam was gone and-"
"Damn right you should have. You can catch a ride with Bobby. I don't want to see your face before September. Don't call my boys, don't come around them, and don't think about throwing out The Guardian card, because I've already talked to Jim. He expects to see you next week for an official visit."
"Keep talking and it will be December."
Caleb didn't repeat Sam's words, but Dean could read the sentiment on his face. John was not garnering any favor on this day. Dean cleared his throat, hoping Caleb would get the message and not make things any worse. He kept repeating 'shut up, shut up' in his mind, hoping Damien would be his snoopy self. Caleb met his gaze and through clenched teeth he gave a quiet, "Yes, sir."
John seemed satisfied. "We're leaving, Dean."
Dean watched his father go; letting out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Don't look so disappointed. It could have gone worse, Damien."
"If we're lucky maybe you'll get off early for good behavior."
"Don't count on it."
"Shit!" Caleb ran his hands through his hair. "I'm with Sam. Sometimes I hate that fucking bastard."
"No, you don't." If that were true, John's strategy wouldn't have been half as effective.
Caleb pinched the bridge of his nose. "Today I do."
"It's just one day-a really shitty day." Dean couldn't make everything right, but he would try to fix what he could. "September will be here before you know it. Go build a bridge, or take a vacation, maybe to Fiji."
Caleb was in no mood to be cheered up. "Deuce, keep your head down." He reached out and clasped Dean's forearm. "I'm not going anywhere. If you need me, call me. I don't give a shit what John says, I'll come."
Dean returned his friend's grip. "I know you will."
Sometimes all it took was a phone call in the middle of the night to bring someone racing home.
He looked towards the Impala where he could see Sam was already in the backseat, arms crossed, his eyes locked on the ugly tan building.
Sometimes it took an order and a small army to drag a person back.
"Move it, Dean!"
Caleb sighed at John's booming command. "On second thought, you don't have to go, Kiddo. Between the two of us, we can take him."
Dean's eyes went to the Impala where his father and brother were waiting for him. He let Caleb go with a half smile. They both knew what he would do. "I'll keep in touch, Damien. I promise."
Sometimes the call originated from a broken place deep inside, the orders dictated by none other than the person's heart. An insurgence of troops was not needed for such a return, just one soldier, always willing to make that journey back home.