The Hidden Place
A/N: Thank you to all those who have been faithful readers and amazingly kind reviewers. I have enjoyed this story so much and hope to perhaps do another soon.
The promise of light beckoned Dean to open his eyes, even as the pull of the blissful suspension he'd been indulging begged him to stay just as he was, unaware of anything but the fog he was floating in. A mix of curiosity and demanding responsibility got the best of him. Dean had an innate need to be aware, to be on guard, even when it wasn't in his best interest. The searing pain in his head when he finally forced his eyes to obey his command was a prime example.
"Ahh." He wasn't sure if he'd groaned out loud until a hand rested on his shoulder a soft voice told him good morning. The distinct dulcet tones of a female had him blinking quickly, his heart rate picking up as he tried to remember who he might have gone to bed with the night before. It was a bad habit, finding a great face and nice body far too distracting to remember something as trivial as a name. If the wave of nausea and dull ache in his body was any indication, he and the mystery woman of the week had possibly drunk way too much tequila and engaged in some very physical foreplay.
The formal address had him taking another deep breath to clear his thoughts. Cool, almost metallic tasting air greeted him. A faint smell of hospital still lingered beneath the pure oxygen, alerting Dean he was not waking up to some one night stand, but more than likely a nurse.
He must have declared his suspicions because the woman now leaning over him, adjusting the oxygen mask on his face was nodding. "That's right, you're in a hospital. I'm your nurse, Anna. How are you feeling?"
Dean didn't answer right away, looking around the room, straining to see around Anna's broad form. The empty chair beside his bed sent a wave of panic through him that chased away the last of the fog. Dean had woken numerous times in a hospital, with little cognizance of what had landed him there, but one thing always held true. He never woke up alone.
Dean attempted to ask where his family was but ended up in a coughing jag that told him that broken ribs had to be a culprit in this latest trip to the dreaded hospital. His pained groaning had Nurse Anna shaking her head in exasperation but she raised the top part of his bed so she could offer him a drink.
"You've been on oxygen since you arrived last night. Your throat's bound to be dry. The less talking the better."
Dean brought the cup to his mouth with a shaky hand. He took note of the IV, realizing oxygen wasn't the only thing they had been pumping into him. A sore dry throat was the least of his problems. Dean's head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and try as he might he couldn't quite recall why he was even in the hospital. The last thing that stood out vividly in his mind was a crushing defeat at Yankee Stadium.
"What happened?" Was it possible he and Caleb ran into a mob of zealous New York fans, talking too much trash for their own good, or had Dean's fears of subway travel finally been justified and their train had gone off the rails in a spectacular manner.
Anna took her time checking his vitals, then smiled as she reclaimed the empty cup with a gentle pat to his arm. "Word on the floor is that a house fell on you."
Bits and pieces of memories replayed for Dean as if Anna had hit some magic start button on his internal recorder. He recalled the secret passage, his ensuing ensnarement, and the spell his father had been trying to break when the whole cursed mantle and supporting wall had come tumbling down.
"Where's Caleb?" Dean pushed the oxygen mask from his face, moving to shove the blankets from his legs. He remembered his best friend knelt beneath the mantle before the collapse. Dean thought he'd talked to him after escaping the room, but the pain medicine made it hard to trust the validity of anything his mind was impressing. Maybe Anna was being literal and the entire house had succumbed to the spell work. Caleb might have been hurt too. That would explain why he was alone. "Where's my dad? Bobby?"
Anna's hand rested once more on his shoulder, but this time it had impressive strength. Dean would have been embarrassed that the much older woman stopped his evasive maneuvers if he hadn't been struggling to breathe thanks to the burst of adrenaline that had reawakened a fiery pain in his chest. He closed his eyes, seeing stars. When he opened them again, Caleb was there.
"Hey. You trying to make a liar out of me, Deuce?"
Dean blinked, somehow not surprised that Caleb had arrived, as if he'd magically materialized in the wake of Dean's fear. His face was grim underneath the attempt at a smile.
"I told Anna there'd be no drama from the patient if she let me go grab some of the delicious coffee downstairs."
Dean's muttered bullshit was barely audible thanks to the oxygen mask Caleb returned to his face but it made the older hunter laugh just the same, some of the worry fading from his features.
"If I recall your leaving was more along the lines of doctor's orders." Anna glanced at her watch then returned her gaze to Dean's IV, checking it hadn't been dislodged. "I doubt if you had time for the requisite meal we agreed upon."
Caleb held up a brown paper bag. "I got it to go. Thanks for the tip on the BLT by the way."
"I'm not sure that was what Dr. Patel had in mind."
"How's the patient doing?" Caleb expertly shifted the conversation. He took a seat on the edge of Dean's bed, arching a brow at the younger hunter though the question had been directed to the medical professional. "All the extra beauty sleep didn't seem to do him much good?"
"You have no room to talk." Dean noted the day's growth of beard added to Caleb's dark countenance, the circles of sleeplessness beneath his eyes not helping. Caleb looked tired and worried, but also angry, which lent to Dean's next inquiry. "Where's Dad?"
Caleb glanced at Anna. "Should he be talking so much?"
"It was only hours ago that you were demanding to know why he wasn't awake and doing just that."
"Careful what you wish for." Caleb smirked at Dean. "He was practically mute when he was a little kid. I used to bribe him to talk to me."
"I'm sure we can arrange for some leverage to keep him quiet." Anna smiled at Dean, patted his arm in sympathy once more. "Like possibly a release from here in the morning if he doesn't try anymore escapes."
Dean and Caleb both must have looked ready to pounce on the offer because Anna held up a hand to ward them off. "That is if Dr. Patel is satisfied with your oxygen levels after he does his rounds this evening."
"That means conserve your breath, Deuce. It will give us a chance to brush up on our rusty sign language."
Dean narrowed his gaze at his friend, lifting his middle finger slightly off the bed.
Caleb rolled his eyes. "That wasn't exactly the sign language I had in mind. ASL will do fine."
Once the nurse had left Dean turned his head to look at Caleb. He moved the oxygen mask. "Sorry I don't remember the finger sequence for dick head."
Caleb quickly spelled out a word that was far worse than Dean's barb, then used their own personal version of sign for a few more. They'd gotten creative over the years, adding private codes so they could insult the older hunters without them being any wiser. "See it all comes back so easy."
"Where's Dad?" Dean wasn't going to be thwarted by Caleb's antics.
Caleb sighed. "Put the mask back on and I'll fill you in on what I know."
Dean didn't argue the conditions, not because his first instinct wasn't to do just that but because the cool oxygen made breathing much more pleasant. He repositioned the mask over his face but made an extreme effort to look indignant about it. "Deal."
Much to Dean's dismay, Caleb claimed the chair by the bed and began a slow process of unwrapping his dinner, a fried bounty on golden buttery toast that had Dean's stomach growling.
"You're going to eat dinner in front of me?"
The older hunter shrugged, purposively displaying the BLT, pieces of perfectly crisp bacon jutting from the sides. "Doctor's orders. Got to keep my strength up if I'm going to nurse you back to health to avoid any nasty workman's comp issues. Besides, it's not like you're trapped in a secret room without any nourishment. That's what the IV's for."
"Not as much as John." Caleb wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "He and Bobby hit the road yesterday."
Dean attempted to push himself up further in the bed getting a stabbing pain and little progress for his trouble. Caleb put his sandwich down and hit the remote that would raise the top of Dean's bed higher. "Was something wrong?"
Dean recognized his best friend's attempt to state the truth without stating the complete truth. Caleb chose to focus on reclaiming his sandwich instead of facing Dean. They had a deal between them. Lying was not something they did, even when the truth was bound to be painful. Dean once more removed the oxygen mask. "Meaning he's back on the job."
"He stayed to make sure you were alright." Caleb leaned forward elbows resting on the bed. "Gave me orders to stay put until you were discharged and on the mend."
"Same hunt he was on before Jim pulled him out of rotation?"
"I get the idea that The Knight's current hunt isn't exactly Guardian sanctioned." Caleb took another bite of his sandwich, but the look on his face told Dean he wasn't enjoying it as much as he should have.
"Bobby tell you that?"
Caleb gave a slight shake of his head as he swallowed. "Bobby showed me a few cards in his hand. You know how that goes."
"I do, and just like you I think it sucks." It was Dean's way of reminding his friend they had agreed a long time ago not to hold out on each other. "What's dad after that would have him dodging Jim?"
Caleb reached up and once more and repositioned the oxygen mask on Dean's face, giving the younger man a glare that promised retribution if it didn't stay put this time. "If you don't want to refresh our trusty sign language routine, then just think really loud. I can read your mind, you know."
Dean blinked, taking a deep breath of the oxygen. He narrowed his gaze stubbornly but conceded the point. He signed for Caleb to tell him.
Caleb tossed the sandwich in the trash by Dean's bed and leaned back in the chair with a heavy sigh. "Johnny's sniffing around for some kind of special weapon. One that can reportedly kill anything."
Dean had just made out the sign for demon when Caleb nodded.
"Bobby wasn't willing to share any details but that's what I'm thinking."
Dean's mind raced with possibilities. His father had been distracted the last few months, even before Dean signed on with Caleb's crew for the summer. John Winchester was many things but he was always focused when it came to his work. Dean had chalked it up to worry about Sam, but then his father rarely spoke Dean's brother's name.
"It makes sense doesn't it," Caleb lowered his voice, obviously reading Dean's spiraling train of thought. He leaned forward once more. "Johnny has a lead on the big bad and he wants everyone out of the way so he can work out a plan."
"And here we thought he was maybe mellowing." Dean didn't bother signing, knowing if his reply was muffled by the mask Caleb already knew what he was thinking.
"We should have known better. Johnny mellows like a slab of fish in the midday sun. Jim's got Bobby shadowing him."
"Dad has to know that." If John Winchester was letting Bobby tag along, it wasn't because he was being duped by The Guardian.
"I thought he might just be so completely focused he underestimated Merlin, but you're probably right." Caleb palmed his eyes, looking wearier. "Johnny's letting everyone know he doesn't give a shit that Jim knows. Hell, he knows Jim's and Mac's hands are tied."
"Finding mom's killer was the whole reason he joined The Brotherhood, Damien." Dean laid a hand on his chest, willing his heart to slow down so to stop taxing his unhappy lungs. "His Triad knows that better than anyone."
"He also joined The Brotherhood, became The Knight, to protect you and Sammy." Anger returned to color Caleb's face. "That has always been his priority mission."
Dean wanted to believe that as badly as Caleb needed to, but there were some days when it was hard to swallow. Like the day when Sam left for California, and on days when Dean woke up in a hospital alone with his best friend who hadn't slept in twenty four hours on solo watch. He wondered if Caleb realized that maybe John had delegated that particular priority mission to his protégé a long time ago.
"He would never willingly put you or Sam in the path of that thing."
"Right. Just like he'd never shirk his duty as a father." Dean frowned at his best friend, not sure if Caleb was trying to convince himself or hoping to make Dean feel better. Either way, wanting something to be true, sure as hell didn't make it so. If that were how life worked, so much of Dean Winchester's world would be different.
"Don't expect me to defend the bastard, Deuce. We both know Johnny has never been in the running for Father of the Year, but I'm just pointing out that maybe letting Sam go to Stanford and agreeing for you to work for Tri-Corp is his way of protecting you."
Dean moved the mask without thinking, old hurt and frustration surfacing in an anger that was going to punish him in a few moments. "Did you forget the year and a half long war that ended in the epic battle that led to Dad telling Sam to get the hell out of our lives and to never look back? How the hell is that letting Sam go to college?"
"I didn't say Johnny was big on simple concessions. His acquiescence was drawn out."
"Dude, you're giving Dad way too much credit." Or Caleb was trying to paint a nicer picture for Dean. One in which the valiant black dragon O'Nathan Jay was being not only clever but virtuous. It was a Pastor Jim move, one that Caleb wouldn't usually try but Dean suspected the fact he was in a hospital bed, looking like death warmed over had something to do with the pitiful attempt at displaying The Knight in a better light for his son.
Caleb once more moved from the chair to the bed, repositioning the oxygen mask on Dean's face none too gently. "What happened to our deal, Devil's Advocate?"
Dean rolled his eyes and signed that he was sorry. Dean was sorry for a lot of things, none more than the fact he couldn't naively accept that his father had any thoughts for anyone or anything beyond the possible lead on what might have killed Mary Winchester and the chance to get his hand on a weapon that would help him exact revenge. "I don't blame him."
"Of course you don't." Caleb's angry look returned and he folded his arms over his chest. "You'll probably want to help him."
"Like you don't?"
"It's a moot point considering he won't let either of us near that hunt."
"You're probably right." Dean picked at the blanket covering him for a moment before lifting his gaze to Caleb who was staring out the lone window in thought. Dean didn't need his best friend's psychic abilities to know what was going through his mind. "But then again you've never been big on following orders."
"Pot meet Kettle." Caleb snorted.
"So what do you have in mind?"
"The only thing I have on my mind at the moment is making sure you recover and make that Yoga class with Lisa." Caleb returned his gaze to Dean, pointing a finger at him. "Then there's the steak Moose owes you to consider."
"And Tri-Corp," Dean was quick to add. He didn't really like the idea of Caleb poking around in The Knight's affairs, even if he planned on doing just that himself the first chance he got. "You need to concentrate on stabilizing the company, not on sticking your nose in Dad's crazy business."
"That's not really an issue seeing as Tri-Corp has suddenly become quite lucrative thanks to your little find."
"How's that?" Dean vaguely recalled Carmine's promise of a nice finder's fee for the whiskey but nothing that would put Caleb's company safely back in the black.
"Remember the other two capes with the mantles? Carmine, thanks to his never ending source, was able to tweak the spell Missouri gave us. He opened the passages without destroying the secret rooms. Last count there was over 200 bottles of Liam Lilly's priceless brew accounted for. He's already found a very wealthy collector to buy them."
"Wouldn't that find technically belong to South Amboy's Rejuvenation Committee, or maybe to Liam Lilly's surviving heir?"
"Trust me when I say old man Lily would not shed any tears about his brat of a great great grandson not seeing a penny of his legacy." Caleb grinned. "And as for South Amboy's committee, I'm sticking with a time-honored contractual agreement between philanthropists and architectural explorers everywhere."
Dean's mouth twitched. "'And that would be?"
Caleb grinned. "Finders-keepers, of course."
"Right." Dean laughed and immediately regretted it. He squeezed his eyes shut, opening them when he felt Caleb bump his fist up against his.
"But you definitely deserve a huge finder's fee, Deuce. How does a fifty-fifty split sound?"
Dean smirked. "How about I just reinvest my part in the company and you give me a nice title, one with more prestige than Moose's and Farley's and maybe a nice cushy office with air conditioning."
"I think I can arrange that." Caleb nodded. "I'll even consider taking you on as a silent partner, emphasis on the silent."
Dean used another colorful sign to show what he thought of that idea. "You're just offering because I'm only here until August."
"No one says you can't stay longer."
"Dad says. Distracted or not he's not going to let me play slacker for much longer."
"Then it's a good thing I'm going to be freed up here about that same time."
"Damien, money or not, you still had plans for this place. What happened to being a part of all that possibility? Sweeping change, remember?" Dean didn't want Caleb sacrificing anything else for his welfare. He could pretend all he wanted that he was concerned about John's plans and Dean knew that was probably part of it, but it was Caleb's desire to protect Dean that was the driving force. Unlike The Knight, Caleb would always remain faithful to his one priority mission to keep Dean and Sam safe.
"I have a feeling South Amboy isn't the only thing on a precipice."
Caleb didn't' have to explain further and Dean knew it was futile to argue. They were both excellent student's of John Winchester's single minded stubbornness. "So our next job is to shadow The Knight?"
"Only instead of tearing something apart, our mission is to keep The Brotherhood intact."
"Let's just hope we don't stumble into anymore hidden places filled with things far worse than Carmine's fancy bootleg whiskey."
Caleb smirked. "Don't worry, Deuce. We'll keep our eyes peeled for bizarre wood and our hard hats handy."
Dean gave a half grin in agreement but couldn't help thinking that no amount of planning or armament would protect them from the fallout if John Winchester's delicate house of cards came tumbling down around them.
The End...for now.