By: Ridley C. James
Beta: On Vacation
A/N: This story came from a little line in L. Burke's story Isis's Dance. It has been on my mind for months now and she was generous enough to let me do the back story that ballooned from her idea. This is the second story I have written from her cleverly crafted tale, and I can't promise it will be the last. It is a continuation of my 'summer of Dean', also a little make-up for my avid Papa Winchester fans as I seemed to bruise them a little in my last post. I tried to finish it in time for Father's Day as a peace offering but it didn't quite work out. I hope it was worth the wait.
"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." –T.S. Eliot
The hunt started out smoothly, more of a vacation at a haunted resort in Northern California than an actual job. A friend of Bobby's, from his military days, and his tantric yogi wife were losing customers left and right because there was nothing like a few hostile spirits oozing negative energy to put a buzz kill on a peace, love and joy fest.
Dean didn't complain when Bobby asked them to meet up, even though he, his father and Caleb had just finished a week-long gig trailing a chupacabra in Washington. It gave his freshly healed leg a workout. A couple of poltergeists at a swanky retreat for new age hippies would be a nice change of pace, or so he hoped. He and Damien made plans to hang out in a hot tub, scope out a few limber ladies, as Bobby did the preliminary research. The trouble began with Dean seeing the perfect opportunity to give his latest project a trial run.
"What the hell did you say this thing did again?" Bobby kept his voice low as he shadowed Dean in the lobby of the resort. They were on their first recon mission, checking the lay of the land. It was nearly twelve, the residents of Lotus Pointe all tucked away for the night after an exhausting day of massage, yoga and meditation.
"Think of it as a supernatural version of the MK3A2." Dean had taken up a new hobby since Sam's departure to Stanford. After more than six months of raging and throwing himself into every hunt with dangerous gusto, he'd shifted his energy to a more productive and offensive effort - weaponry.
"A concussion grenade?" Bobby turned over the metal dome-shaped object in his hand, studying the lettering on the side. "How exactly is this going to help with the spirit problem?"
"I said it's similar to the MK3A2. Same casing, same detonation mechanism." Dean had based his prototype in theory on the shockwave grenade the military used to minimize injury to friendlies in the area, changing it up a little by applying a measure of physics. He'd also drawn from Star Wars. The concussion grenade was a favorite of Boba Fett the bounty hunter. "Instead of pure kinetic energy, this little baby emits a pulse that separates positive and negative charges, generating a specific electric field that should basically diffuse spiritual energy within two meters."
"A ghost scrambler?" Bobby snorted.
"It does the same thing as rock salt, only a hundred times better and a hunter doesn't have to get up close and personal with the enemy."
"So I could clear an area of hostiles to get in and destroy a grave or a haunted object?"
"Yahtzee." Dean pocketed the grenade with a grin. "You can tell me how brilliant I am after we see if it works."
"How the hell did you figure that out?"
Dean lifted his homemade EMF. "By building this." He winked at the hunter. "I also had a really hot physics teacher my senior year." It wasn't true. Mr. Hardy was hideous, but brilliant. It was one of the few classes Dean bothered to stay awake for.
Bobby shook his head. "I'd say you've spent too much time in Jim's workshop." He took the EMF, studying the needle as it barely trembled. "You sure this gadget of yours works, Mr. Wizard? We're not getting any kind of reading in here."
"It works. Our baddies just aren't interested in the main house." Dean snatched the old Walkman away from the other hunter. The EMF he'd built months ago was fine. It was the grenade he had yet to test. He started the project at the farm as part of his recuperation due to the New Mexico hunt. He hadn't been in a situation that allowed for a field trial until now. "Keep your shotgun handy just in case."
"Maybe your daddy and Junior are having better luck out at the boat house. That's where several of the sightings have been."
Dean followed Bobby through the kitchen area and into the garden where motion sensitive lights bathed them in pale illumination. The EMF whirred to life, a high pitch whine piercing the night as they stepped onto the cobble stone path that led to the lake.
Bobby raised his gun, scanning the perimeter. "Either your toy picks up on sage and lavender or something spooky is definitely out here."
"What kind of self respecting spirit hangs out at a spa, even worse, in a mediation garden?"
"You saw the research, Kid. This place was originally owned by Stefan Bukosky. He was a billionaire in the hand tooled shoe business. His family was from the old country. If you ask me that has Russian mob boss written all over it. There are probably human remains fertilizing all these fancy exotic flowers."
Dean studied the trail in front of them. The path was lined with staked lights all the way down to the water. "If that's the case, that manmade lake they boast about in the brochure would have been a great place to shove some cement-shoed flunkies."
"Not to mention the fifty plus acres of scenic old growth forest around us." Bobby rubbed a hand over his beard. "We could be looking at one hell of a mass grave."
Dean glanced at Bobby, dread growing in the pit of his stomach. "How long exactly did Bukosky own this place?"
"Thirty years. He inherited it from Bukosky senior."
"Great." Dean ran a hand through his hair. He loved the Godfather movies, but had never considered ending up on a hunt due to a real life Corleone saga. "That giant old boat house by the lake would have been convenient for holding family business."
Bobby met his gaze. "Keep the mess out of the main house and away from prying eyes. If things go bad, just take a walk on the dock and feed the fishes."
Dean shook his head. "Hell of a nice place your buddy picked to put his Karmic Mecca, Bobby."
"Shit. Dwight never was the brightest bulb. There was a reason my unit didn't let him deal in intel. I hope he got this place for a steal because unless you can channel Mr. Gadget and build a supernatural equivalent to the A-bomb, I doubt we're going to clear house here."
"We better warn Dad and Caleb that they're in the hot zone…."
The words had barely left Dean's mouth when the sound of shattering glass came from the direction of the lake, followed by the melodic echo of his father's swearing.
"I'm guessing they're figuring it out on their own."
John was picking himself up off the ground when they reached the boat house. The remains of the stained glass window featuring mermaids and Neptune lay in ruins around him.
"Dad, you alright?"
"No! I'm not alright." John growled, picking his gun off the ground as he headed back towards the building. Dean took it as a good sign his father was pissed and moving despite the cuts he could see glistening wetly on his dad's face and arms. There was another gun blast; Caleb came charging out the door.
"Heads up!" He did a tuck and roll just as what looked like a spear struck the ground mere inches behind him.
It took Dean a second to realize it wasn't a fishing spear, but a broken boat paddle as several more came hurdling in their direction thwacking into the dirt as if they had been launched from a catapult. "So much for simple recon."
"Take cover!" John ordered, ducking beneath an overturned paddle boat.
Dean and Bobby shielded themselves behind one of the massive red oaks as Caleb skidded to a stop at an adjacent one. "There's more than one spirit." He panted, casting a twisted smile in their direction. "I counted five, and that's just the ones I could sense. They're all pissed."
"Then what the hell are you smiling for, Junior?" Bobby growled, as the tree limbs around them began to shake. More objects from the boathouse were used as weapons. Life jackets became mortar, fishing poles transformed into javelins. "We have no clue where those graves might be."
"It's perfect conditions for Deuce's little experiment." Caleb gave his best friend an encouraging nod. "Go ahead. Send the ghost grenade straight over home plate. I'll cover you."
Dean rolled his eyes at Damien's warped sense of optimism. "What if it doesn't work?"
"A C-note says it will." Caleb had embraced Dean's new found interest with gusto, goading him on by making sure Jim's workshop was well stocked with items he'd scored from one of his militia buddies. Dean wasn't sure if Caleb as the future Knight was really interested in the potential the weapons held, or was glad Dean had finally emerged from the funk he'd been in since Sam returned to Stanford.
"You expect me to bet against my own genius?"
"I'll give you the money either way."
"A hundred bucks?" Dean glanced at Bobby, then returned Caleb's shit eating grin. "Go me."
Bobby grunted. "Bombs away, Kid. Your daddy's getting pummeled out there."
Dean took the grenade from his pocket, pulling the pin that would set the timer. "Incoming!" He stepped out from behind the tree, launching the orb like he would have a baseball thrown from outfield to stop the winning run. He watched it soar through the jagged remains of the window, before turning around to press himself closer against the tree.
There was a clack as the metal struck concrete and skidded across. Dean counted down in his head, knowing the ten seconds would go quickly. A rapid beeping let them know time was up before the whole lake was lit by a burst of blue and green light rivaling the Aurora Borealis. The light show was accompanied by a high-pitched whistling, like the sound of a bottle rocket streaking through the sky. It didn't last more than five seconds, and then everything stopped. A heavy cloak of silence settled over the boathouse. Dean could hear the lapping of the lake, the chirp of crickets. Darkness reclaimed its ground, only the glow of the lanterns remaining.
"Well, I'll be damned," Bobby muttered.
"You think Pastor Jim will let me get a copyright?" Dean elbowed Bobby as they watched his father crawl out from under the boat.
"What the hell was that?" John started for them, keeping his eyes on the lake house even though the threat was over for the moment.
"That was the product of all that time you said I wasted at Jim's over Christmas," Dean said, proudly. His father hadn't been keen on Mac's orders that Dean stay at the farm through the holidays. Eight weeks off from hunting was a luxury they couldn't afford. Dean had mostly agreed with his father, especially after the cast came off but Caleb had pulled The Guardian card, quashing any protests. He turned, expecting his best friend to jump on the chance to get in an 'I told you so'. Caleb wasn't gloating. He was down.
"Damien?" Dean moved quickly to Caleb's side. His friend was prone on the ground.
"I swear to God if this is some kind of joke, Junior…" Bobby growled, kneeling by Dean.
"What's wrong?" John moved around them, crossing to Caleb's other side.
"I don't know. He was fine." Dean placed a hand on his friend's back, thankful when he felt the rise and fall of breath.
"Caleb?" Dean watched as his Dad reached out and laid a hand against Caleb's face, the other going to rest against the downed hunter's throat. "Come on, Junior. Can you hear me?"
His father looked at Bobby. "Let's get him on his back. Dean, brace his head."
Dean did as father instructed; helping the other two hunters turn Caleb's body.
"He's out cold, John."
"Did he get hit with something?"
"No." Dean reached for Caleb's gun, checking his friend's hands for any sign of the weapon might have malfunctioned. There wasn't a mark on him. It looked as if Caleb were merely sleeping.
John brushed his hand over Caleb's hair, checking for wounds. "No sign of trauma."
"This ain't good." Bobby leaned over with his flashlight, lifting each of the younger hunter's eyelids. "Pupils aren't reacting."
"What the hell…" John rubbed his knuckles over Caleb's sternum, garnering no reaction.
Dean searched the area around them, his eyes lighting on the pin for the grenade. His mind started connecting dots. "Shit."
"What?" His father looked over at him. "Dean?"
"The grenade…" Dean turned to Bobby. "Do psychics tap into the same wavelengths as spirits?"
"Some do, I guess." Bobby glanced down at Caleb, then back to Dean.
"I mean, that makes sense." Dean placed a hand on Caleb's chest, his fingers tightening in the material of the older hunter's shirt. "Mediums channel spirits. Damien connects with different entities through his visions. He can sense their presence. They all must draw on similar spectrums of the earth's electromagnetic field. The dispersion wouldn't have been selective. It neutralized everything."
"Dean, speak fucking English." John reached over and gripped his son's shoulder. "Do you know what's wrong with Caleb?"
"It was the EMP grenade. I did this." Dean didn't know which was worse, Caleb's lack of response or the dawning of realization on his father's face.
"Goddamnit." John let him go. "Bobby get Mackland on the phone."
Dean barely registered the conversation, his focus consumed by Caleb's unmoving form. The fact his father didn't object to Mackland's demands they call an ambulance weighted his worry. His dad helped Bobby erase the traces of their hunt while Dean held onto Caleb, desperate to keep his friend with them until help could arrive.
The trip in the ambulance was long and daunting. Dean tried to answer the paramedic's questions without sounding insane. He hoped Mackland would make good time on his flight to California so he could pick up the slack with the doctors, make them understand what might be going on so they could get Damien to wake up. Dean couldn't handle the alternative. It was not an option.
Six hours later found him in the chapel staring at his cell phone as if it might hold some kind of answers the doctors had been unable to unearth with their scans and tests thus far. His father had filled out all the necessary paperwork, talked with the doctor's on Mac's behalf. If they knew what was going on with Caleb, they didn't express any of their theories, holding out for more results and waiting on the resident expert. Mackland had put a call into the trauma unit before boarding the plane. He was due to arrive soon
Dean imagined The Scholar giving his usual neurosurgeon spiel. A small voice, one that sounded a lot like Pastor Jim, whispered that sharing a moment with God could take away the smothering feeling of loneliness and might make the time pass more quickly. It was a frantic move that hadn't paid off. Dean pressed the send button on his phone, reaching out to another kind of sanctuary.
It didn't surprise him when Sam's voice mail kicked in. Dean knew it by heart, having listened to it countless times the past year, although not as frequently over the last few months. After those first initial calls, he never bothered to leave a message, but tonight he was compelled by circumstance.
"Sammy…this is Dean." Dean's eyes stung at the fact he felt the need to clarify who he was. The dull ache of grief joined in with his most current emotions of fear and guilt. He swallowed hard to force down the lump that had crawled from his chest to settle uncomfortably in his throat. "I need to talk to you, man. I need…" Dean hesitated. What he really needed was for Caleb to wake up and tell him what a baby he was being. "Just call me when you get this message. Please."
He imagined he sounded as desperate as he felt, wondered if it would prompt Sam to return the call, although Dean wasn't sure what he expected his brother to do. Listen, maybe, as Dean confessed. He'd done the unthinkable, the thing Sam kept swearing their father was going to do. Maybe Dean was looking for an 'I told you so' instead of an empathetic ear.
The door to the chapel opened. Dean quickly wiped his eyes, standing when Bobby cleared his throat. "They've got Junior set up in ICU, Kid. You can go in and sit with him if you want."
Dean nodded. "Mac made it yet?"
"Your daddy just talked to him. His plane landed, he's on his way from the airport." Bobby folded his arms over his chest. "Jim's headed this way, too."
Dean met the older hunter's gaze, trying to prepare for being told the doctors had said Caleb was not going to make it "Does Dad know something he's not sharing?"
"No. It's nothing like that. Jim wanted to be here."
"Just in case," Dean finished.
"Don't go there, Kid." Bobby pulled his cap off, twisting the bill. "It ain't like that. Junior is going to wake up and be pissed as hell that he's garnered the entire Triad's attention."
"I don't care how pissed he is as long as he wakes up."
The possibility of that seemed gloomy and unreachable as Dean sat at Caleb's bedside. Night had turned to morning, hours slipping into late afternoon. The quick fix Dean had expected upon Mac's arrival had yet to materialize. The Scholar seemed as impotent as the other doctors treating Damien, although his theories were more plausible.
Mac believed the backlash caused by Dean's ghost grenade had battered Caleb's psychic shields, causing an automatic lockdown of sorts. It wasn't as if they could share their information with the other physicians. The Scholar could only offer conjecture about what the effects might mean for Caleb, or when his son would wake up. Dean found it hard not to hit something or someone as he watched Mac calmly, methodically check vitals for an umpteenth time.
"Perhaps you should go grab some fresh air." Mackland didn't look up from the chart he was holding. AMA rules demanded he not officially be allowed on Caleb's case but his reputation in neurology and sheer stubbornness allotted him a modicum of special favor. "A change of scenery would do you good, clear your head."
"I'm not leaving." Bobby had already tried to drag him to the cafeteria when John went to the airport to pick up Jim.
Mackland moved around the bed to stand by Dean. "I wasn't suggesting that, Son. Just a quick break. We don't know how long this situation might continue, and making yourself sick won't help matters."
"No." Dean had caused this 'situation'. He rubbed his bad leg. Caleb hadn't left him while he was in the hospital in New Mexico, staying even when Jim and eventually John had shown up. Dean wasn't allowing himself any reprieve until Caleb was awake.
The Scholar took a seat by Caleb's hip, his hand resting on his son's arm. "He wouldn't want you to blame yourself. You had no idea this would happen."
"I should have." Dean looked up at the doctor, angry Mac was trying to let him off the hook. "I'm supposed to watch his back. I should have considered his abilities, that they were linked to the same frequency as a spirit. I should have come to you before testing it."
"If you had, I wouldn't have necessarily made the assumption there would be negative repercussions for psychics." Mackland ran a finger over his brow. "There is still so much we don't know about supernatural forces. It was the same in the medical field. Some of the cures doctors attempted in the past are now looked at as barbaric, but they were building blocks for the breakthroughs we have today. Calculated risks are common during exploration of uncharted territory and attempts at ingenuity are..."
"Calculated risks?" Dean didn't even fathom a threat; if he had they wouldn't have been at the hospital having such a conversation. "Caleb could die, Mac. That kind of collateral damage is never acceptable. I screwed up, and now he's paying the price. Stop trying to rationalize my royal fuck up."
"Caleb is not going to die." Mac's voice held an edge Dean rarely heard. "I won't allow that to happen."
"I want to believe that, but you haven't had any more luck waking him up than your flunky constituents." Dean wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but knew Mac would have been justified in dressing him down if he so chose. He preferred the reprimand to the look of guilt that crossed The Scholar's face.
"I might like to pretend I have the upper hand in the medical front, but it only takes a moment like this to remind me of my mere mortal status." Mac moved his gaze to Caleb. "It's not easy to wait, to accept that some things are out of my control. That is a father's burden-to understand that in the end we are at Fate's mercy." He looked at Dean. "Someone once described parenting as having an invisible gun held to your head at all times. To think, I believed the description ludicrous."
Dean thought of Sam, the fact all his father's efforts to control him were unsuccessful. Dean had failed also, all his hopes of keeping his family together botched. "I can't lose anyone else, Mac." He refused to lose another brother.
"You better than anyone should know Caleb's not going to abandon his post so easily. Watching out for you is a job he takes completely to heart." Mackland sighed. "He's been especially worried about you since Samuel left."
"Look where that got him." Dean knew his friend had taken time off from Tri-Corp, pushing to come on more hunts with The Knight. He'd taken Dean's spot on several gigs during his downtime at the farm, but stayed at Jim's when he could get away with it.
"He must have been about fifteen the first time he asked me if you and Samuel could come live with us."
Dean glanced up at the doctor. It was a seemingly random change in subject. Mac was staring at Caleb, a wistful smile on his tired features. "The first time?"
Mac nodded. "Oh, he made that request many times over the years. I don't remember what prompted that initial plea, but I do recall saying no to him was extremely painful because it was the first time since he came to live with me that he had asked me for anything. He was so earnest, so determined in his query. I felt as if I had let him down."
"It wasn't your job to take care of us." Dean twisted the silver ring around his finger. "Brotherhood or not, it's not Damien's responsibility to watch out for me."
"Yet you feel obligated to keep vigilant watch at his bedside." Mac raised a brow. "What is that expression Jim uses for these moments laden with hypocrisy? Pot and kettle?"
Dean took a breath, let it out slowly. "I just want him to come back to us."
"He will, Son, when he's able and ready."
"Damien said the same thing about Sam." Dean blinked away the burning in his eyes, swallowing past the golf ball sized tightness in his throat. "It hasn't happened yet."
"It doesn't mean it won't."
"I'm sorry, Mac." Dean licked his lips. "I'm so damn sorry."
Mac brought his other hand to cover Dean's that rested on the mattress beside Caleb. "I know you are, but there's nothing to forgive. It was an accident, that's all."
Dean pulled away from the doctor's touch when the door to Caleb's room opened. Jim entered, followed by Dean's father.
"How is our boy?" Jim moved beside Dean, briefly squeezing his shoulder as he maneuvered his way to Caleb's side.
Mackland moved to make room for The Guardian. "His condition is the same."
"Is that cause for alarm? He's been unconscious for almost twelve hours now."
"His vitals are strong, respiration and reflexes are all normal." Mackland folded his arms over his chest. "His brain activity on the surface appears worrisome, but I believe the compromised areas have more to do with his psychic abilities than any trauma or sustained damage."
"Junior's hiding out for the all clear sign." John leaned against the door. "He's going to come out of the fox hole as soon as he realizes it's safe."
Dean stared at his father, surprised he'd been paying such close attention when Mac explained the logistics of Caleb's condition.
"I'm sure you're right." Jim ran his hand over Caleb's hair, resting his touch against the younger hunter's forehead. "I believe Dean looks more the worst for wear."
Dean moved his gaze from his father to The Guardian, catching the subtle order. "I'm fine, Jim."
"Then you should escort your father to the cafeteria for some food. He's looking rather frayed around the edges."
"I'd really like to sit with Caleb for a moment," Jim's hand moved to Dean's shoulder once more, giving another firm squeeze. "Just for a bit, my boy."
Dean knew he wasn't being given a choice, and it wasn't in his nature to deny Jim a heartfelt request. Dean cut his gaze to Mac. "You'll come get me if anything changes."
The guarantee didn't make it any easier to leave, but his father's choice of conversation soon diverted his mind from thoughts of desertion.
"Your brother called me."
They had just stepped into the hallway, made it past the nurse's station in ICU. "What?"
"Your brother called me."His father cleared his throat. "He tried your phone, got your voice mail." John stopped in front of the elevator, but didn't push the button for the cart. "He was worried."
Dean had put his cell on silent when he'd gone to sit with Caleb. He hadn't really expected Sam to call back, hadn't cared about any other missed calls. "He talked to you?"
"I think from the tone of your message he thought I might have been mortally injured." John wiped a hand down his mouth. "He cut me some slack in his moment of relief."
Dean's hand went to the amulet around his neck. "Did you tell him about Damien?"
"I gave him the run down." John moved away from the elevators, gesturing to a couple of bench seats by the vending machines. Dean followed his father, unsure of his dad's mood or the conversation they were obviously about to have.
"Is he alright?"
"He was upset about Caleb." John sat on the orange bench closest to the window. The seats were tucked in an alcove away from the hospital traffic. Dean could see the orange glow of dusk.
"Is he coming up here?" Stanford was relatively close even though California was a long state.
"I don't think so, Ace."
Dean wasn't surprised.
"What was your reason for calling him in the first place?" John waited for Dean to join him on the seat. "He's made it pretty clear he doesn't want to talk to you."
Dean held his father's gaze, catching a hint of pain in his dark eyes but no anger. "I guess he has."
"You can count on me, you know."
If Dean had not been certain before he was now sure that Jim had encouraged the impromptu father and son chat. He took a seat by his father. "We don't have to do this, Dad. I'm good." Winchesters didn't talk about their wounds. They sucked it up and went on.
"Maybe Jim's right and I'm the one who needs to do this."
"Why?" Dean didn't doubt his father worried about Sam. He was angry his younger son hadn't conformed to the rules; but he couldn't help to wonder if their old man wasn't a little bit relieved Sam was gone.
"Maybe I haven't done such a good job of being here for you since Sam left. I've ignored what's been going on with you, focusing on the job to the exclusion of everything else."
Dean stamped down his first reply of 'what else is new'. His father had done that most of Dean's life. Dean couldn't help but to feel as if he were channeling a little bit of Damien. "You don't have to worry about me. Really."
"I didn't even have a responsibility to hand off to you to this time." His father twisted his wedding band around his finger. "When we lost your mother, giving you Sammy to watch out for seemed to take your mind off things, kept you grounded."
"I barely spoke for a year." He remembered feeling empty inside, then only talking to Sam and Caleb when he finally had some thoughts to share.
"You were dealing with it in your own way. I didn't blame you for not wanting to talk about it."
Dean rolled his eyes. If his father wanted a Ward Cleaver moment, Dean was going o play his role like a normal son. "I wasn't the one who never wanted to talk about it. You never mentioned Mom. You haven't spoken Sam's name in months."
His dad looked at him. "I'll try to do better."
"Dad, why are you saying all this?" Dean didn't know if this shift meant his father would talk about Sam, or at least allow the occasional reminiscing.
"Because I know you miss your brother and I know you're scared we're going to lose Caleb,"
"Nothing's going to happen to Caleb." Dean stood, spooked by the prospect of suddenly being given what he wanted, what he needed-his dad. He wasn't willing to trade one for the other. It was ingrained fear that Dean wait for the other shoe to drop. There was the irrational desire to scream Cristo.
"Dude, that's not what this is about. I have no doubt Junior's going to wake up with one bitch of headache, prissier than usual." John pointed to the seat. "Let me finish."
Dean complied, glancing down the hallway toward Caleb's room. "There's more? Shit. I can't believe Damien's missing this Mike Brady moment."
"Cut the sarcasm, Ace." John rubbed a hand over his beard. "I'm trying to tell you something here. Something I don't want repeated to your best buddy so he can lord it over my head."
"You're kind of scaring me here, Dad."
"I'm trying to make you understand that you can talk to me. I'll try to listen." John sighed. "You turn to me. I'm your Dad. We're still a family."
Dean heard the unspoken 'Sam's gone'. His father reached out and gripped the back of his neck. The touch was solid and warm. "Everything's going to be okay, Son. I promise."
Dean blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. He hadn't heard his father speak that simple vow in years, but he'd heard the echo from it over and over in head for as long as he could remember. Dean's personal mantra. It was a promise from the night his mom died, whispered into his hair as the firemen hurried about trying in vain to save their home. It was one Dean continued to cling to in his darkest moments. The ring of it brought down his guards, as sure as the grenade had demolished Caleb's. "I screwed up, Dad."
"You didn't do anything wrong, Kiddo. Get that through your thick Winchester skull. Junior will tell you the same damn thing when he wakes up."
"The sooner the better."
"Junior is much better at the emotional shit." His father smiled, and Dean saw his brother's grin. For the first time in months thinking of Sam didn't make him sad. "Jim won't let me off the hook until your nanny is up and around, picking up my slack."
"I hate to break it to you, Dad, but Damien would have nailed me on the back of the head, bought me a beer and let me drown my sorrows in a sweet red head."
His dad snorted. "How about I spring for a stale burger and some scorched coffee?"
"That'll do in a pinch."
John stood. "I wouldn't mind helping you out in Jim's workshop either, at least until Junior's on his feet. I might not be into the whole science thing, but I'm pretty sure you got your gadget mojo from me."
"Gadget mojo?" Dean arched a brow, his father's attempt at lingo sounding extremely lame.
"Caleb slang, remember?"
"I already have a best friend." Dean appreciated the effort as he watched his father cast a glance towards Caleb's room. "Doesn't mean I still don't need my dad." Dean was pretty sure he had never spoken the words out loud. The look on his father's face confirmed it. Maybe something positive could come from Sam leaving.
"I know you do, Kiddo." John reached up and gave his neck a quick squeeze. "You need a minute to call your brother back? I can meet you in the cafeteria."
Dean shook his head. "I'll leave him a message when Damien wakes up." His father was right. Dean had to start appreciating the family he had left.
Still, the realization didn't quell the temptation to ring Sam back when another day passed without Caleb so much as moving. His dad stuck close to his side, an oddity than was both comforting and disconcerting. Dean was sure Jim picked up on the mixed emotions his plan had unfurled, ordering John and Bobby to get some rest at a motel across the street. Dean had taken a shower and a short nap at Mac's insistence, returning to the hospital in time to relieve The Scholar who also received his orders for sleep. He was obeying The Guardian by dozing in the residence quarters.
Dean had just finished reading the last chapter of the Three Musketeers for the second time when he saw Caleb's hand twitch. He thought it was a slight of eye, a result of wishful thinking and too much caffeine. Dean glanced across the room to the recliner where Jim was, the words 'did you see that' dying on his lips when he realized there was a reason the pastor had been quiet for so long. The Guardian had finally succumbed to his own advice, mouth slightly agape, his Bible resting open on his chest, glasses sat crooked on the tip of his nose.
The second time Caleb moved it was accompanied by a low groan that had Dean tossing the book on the nightstand, scrambling to his friend's bed side. "Damien?"
He rested a hand on Caleb's head, willing the older hunter to open his eyes. "You with me?"
"Deuce…" Caleb's voice was weak, hoarse from disuse. Dean would never confess how wonderful the nickname sounded. He'd begun to worry he might not hear it again.
Caleb blinked, his eyes opening to slits. "Where's here?"
The word had his friend opening his eyes wider, lifting his head to try and see around the room. "What the fuck…"
"Easy." Dean moved his hand to Caleb's chest to keep him from moving. "You've been out of it for a bit."
Caleb caught sight of the sleeping Guardian, groaning again as he rested his head against the pillow. "Shit, how long's a bit?"
Dean watched him bring a hand to his temple, squeeze his eyes shut. "A couple of days. You scared the hell out of us."
"Mac's down the hallway sleeping." Dean looked towards the door. "I should get him…"
"No." Caleb reached up and caught his wrist. "Tell me what happened. What's wrong?"
"Besides you taking a forty-eight hour nap?" Dean sat on the bed, figuring a few moments wouldn't hurt as long as Damien was awake and talking. "How does your head feel?"
Caleb's brow furrowed, lips pursed. "Fuzzy, like I've been on one hell of a bender."
"Not so much," Dean said. "What do you remember?"
"Coming out of the boat house." Caleb brought his other hand to his head, rubbing his eyes.
"That's when things got interesting." Dean checked the monitors around them, surprised no nurse had been alerted that Caleb was conscious.
"I take it our plan to score a hot tub and some limber chicks was ruined." Caleb stared down at his hand still holding Dean's wrist. He winced at the IV.
"You okay?" Caleb let his fingers relax but didn't remove his touch completely. "Johnny and Bobby?"
"Everybody else is fine. Only you and the spirits took the hit from my ghost grenade."
"Ghost grenade?" Caleb's frowned deepened. "Your invention did this? How? "
Dean licked his lips, wondering if going to get Mac might not be the preferable option.
He owed his best friend an explanation. "Seems my stroke of genius not only works on ghosts but can also take out any psychics in a two meter range. Your abilities pull from the same frequency as the spirits. I swear I didn't know, Damien. That never crossed my mind. I'm sorry."
"For what?" Caleb's frown faded behind a hint of a grin. "That's some powerful weapon you invented, Deuce. It could be useful."
"I nearly fried your brain."
"So you'll add a warning. All psychics get clear."
"Idiot o'gram is more apt," Dean snapped, lowering his voice so as not to wake Jim. It was a testament to how tired the pastor was that he didn't even stir. "Are you completely blocking out the part where you're in the hospital, hooked up to more leads than Frankenstein. I thought you were dying, man."
"Dude, I'm fine." Caleb attempted to sit up to prove his point. Dean's glare had him easing back onto the bed. "So, I have a massive headache and could vomit on your boots at any given moment." He tried for a lopsided grin, which looked more like a grimace. "No different than the side effects of a typical night out on the town with you."
Dean shook his head. "I'm trashing the specs, throwing out the prototype. My voyage into weaponry is over."
"You don't mean that." Caleb reclaimed the grip on his arm. "Your ideas are good, Dean. You could save a lot of hunter's lives."
"I nearly ended yours, Damien."
"Dude, I'm fine."
"No thanks to me." Dean wasn't going to be dissuaded. He knew what he had to do.
Caleb growled. "Did Johnny say something to you?"
"No. Dad actually agrees with you. He thinks the ghost grenade is a great idea."
Caleb snorted. "Johnny understands not all psychics are on the good side of The Force. He might even be willing to use me as a guinea pig."
"He was trying to make me feel better." Dean cast a nod in Jim's direction. "Guardian mandate."
"Doesn't make what he was saying any less true."
Dean let his voice go even quieter, knowing Jim might just as easily be playing possum for their benefit. "He says he's going to try and do a better job at being my dad."
"That's good, Deuce. Totally unexpected-but good." Caleb kept his low in return. "Maybe Johnny's up to trying some new things, too."
Dean looked at his friend. "I called Sammy."
Caleb forced another grin, holding back on the sentiment Dean could see lurking behind his hooded eyes. "The runt hiding out with John and Bobby?"
"No." Dean glanced away. "He didn't come."
"That doesn't hurt my feelings, Deuce." Caleb cleared his throat. "Looks like I had too many people sitting around worrying as it was."
"He called-talked to Dad." Dean fiddled with the leather bracelet around his wrist. "It sounded like they had a civil conversation."
"Maybe Sam's trying some of his own brand of ingenuity." Caleb nudged Dean's hand. "There are a lot of things out there waiting to be discovered by the both of you. Weaponry is a good outlet for you-no limits to what you might achieve. You could surprise yourself."
"Right." Dean smirked, not willing to be drawn back into the conversation about the grenade. Caleb would not give up, but neither would Dean. He wasn't going there until his friend was given the all clear and Dean wouldn't feel so guilty about standing his ground. "I better get Mac before the only thing I discover is how bad The Scholar's bedside manner can be."
"You know he's going to want to scan every inch of me, right?"
"Again, note the machinery, The Guardian's nesting." Dean waved a hand to encompass their surroundings. "I'm all on board for making sure you didn't lose any of your precious few brain cells."
"All in the name of science."
"Not yet. Give it time, it will be."
"I don't think so." Dean stood.
Caleb caught his sleeve when he tried to leave. "Did Johnny happen to mention how none of this was your fault when he was giving you his newly enlightened Cliff Huxtable spiel?"
Dean sighed. "He might have mentioned it."
"Just for good measure- let me reiterate." Caleb waited until Dean was looking at him. "None of this was your fault. You did something good, my fucked up abilities just got in the way. Understand?"
Dean nodded. "I'm just glad you're okay."
"I am." Caleb let him go. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm also glad some things never change."
Dean made it to the door, just as Jim snorted awake. His timing was impeccable. "Caleb, my boy. You've revived."
Dean shook his head as he left the room, more grateful than he could remember for his odd little family. He'd wake Mac, alert Bobby and his Dad that Caleb was back with them, but first he had something to do. Dean reached into his pocket, pulling out his cell. He hit the number that would connect him to his brother.
He accepted that his life had taken a course he hadn't planned, willing to embrace the possibility that something new might lay just over the horizon. But like he'd said to Caleb, there was comfort in the fact that as much as things were apt to change, there were still certain constants a guy could always cling to. Dean cradled the phone close to his ear, listening to his brother's voice. He waited for the anticipated hollow beep.
"Hey, Sammy, it's me, Dean…"
A/N: The New Mexico incident I reference is found in the story The Edge of Winter. Thanks again to L. Burke for Isis's Dance.