Ties That Bind

A/N: We've been wanting to take the Brotherhood on a joy ride for a year or so now, so thanks so much to Ridley for allowing us the use of her great OCs.

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"Grief is the price we pay for love." Elizabeth II

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It was a call that Dean had never wanted to make. He looked again at Max. Even in a hospital he could still imagine the teen's body covered in blood, the way he, Caleb, and Sam had found him.

So he cleared his throat and manned up, punching in numbers he now knew by heart, a natural repercussion of Joshua being the Advisor, of course, but also of the friendship between his middle son and Max. "Joshua?" He said, trying to control his voice as he talked into the speaker. "I have some bad news."

Twelve Hours Before

Max grinned and surged ahead of Ben, getting enough distance to bring his right leg back to kick the ball between the two trees that they had marked as 'goal'. He turned around, fist pumping the air in triumph, and turned it into a high-five halfway through so he could slap his teammate, JT.

"No fair!" The whine was more than slightly annoying, but Max had to grin as James jogged up to them. He'd been waiting for the inevitable 'no fair' since he'd stolen the ball from the youngest Winchester boy. "You tripped me!"

Now James was even with Max, his finger pointing accusingly at the older boy, who swiped his hair back with one hand and grinned at JT, a grin that said we knew this would happen. Ever since James had turned thirteen he'd been unstably hormonal to such a degree that Max had taken to calling him bipolar – sweet and childish one second and arrogant and whiny the next.

"You're just jealous 'cause I'm faster than you, Jimmy." What they had really wanted to play was baseball, which seemed to run in all three boys' blood, but Ben, the necessary player to make the teams even, had vetoed the game in light of the three windows and mailbox the boys had broken with foul balls. So soccer it was.

James huffed, crossing his arms. "Only because you're older. And it's James." He turned away, muttering under his breath about how it was so hard for his brothers – and his uncles and father and mother and brother's best friend, for that matter – to remember a simple, one-syllable name.

Ben chose this time to intervene. He'd returned to the farm for the weekend because the boys had begged to be allowed to camp during their last week of summer vacation. Dean, Caleb, and Sam had refused on the grounds that there would be no one in the area of the farm, since they had a hunt (the first one in months, and they were treating it as more of a vacation, a time to re-connect over an old pastime. Oh, hunting was dangerous, but there was also no other rush in the world. Drugs and alcohol had nothing on taking down a few good ol' fashioned spirits) And Juliet and Carolyn had taken the opportunity of a husband free weekend to wheedle Mac into taking their daughters for a few days while they had a girls' night out in New York.

Which left Ben as a mostly-involuntary babysitter for teenagers who felt like they didn't need adult supervision. To his credit, they'd already told Ben that he was better than Riley or Bobby, who would sometimes "drop by" the farm whenever the Triad found a hunt. Being babysat by a brother was better than a couple of grouches who wished the hunt was theirs.

JT, always careful, looked to the darkening sky. It wasn't a stormy color, just not the blue haze that had held master over most of the summer so far. "We should get the tent set up before it starts to rain."

Ben put his hands up instantly. "Look, I may have been strong-armed into coming out here, even though I have three applications for Fellowships that I still have to complete, but I'm not helping you set up a tent."

"We weren't asking." Max retorted, sounding so much like Caleb in that instant that even he was taken aback. Ben raised one eyebrow, wondering, not for the first time, about the circular nature of the Triad. Were they picked because they inherently possessed the necessary qualities for the Knight, Scholar, and Guardian, or did the qualities get adopted once the decision for the Triad was made? Chicken or the egg?

The tent took a half hour to set up, and Ben ended up out by the lake anyway, making sure that the structure was erected in a spot he could easily see from the upstairs window of Pastor Jim's old farmhouse, far enough away so the boys wouldn't think they were being watched every minute.

Ben remembered how it was being a teen and thinking you had no life, no privacy, no fun. He'd been in favor of this campout from the first time it was mentioned (back in February with snow on the ground.) Sometimes you just had to dole out trust and hope that the recipients would rise to the occasion.

Right now, of course, the three were arguing about exactly what would be allowed in the tent for the night. Hot dogs and s'mores ingredients were a must, of course, but lines were being drawn against everything else.

"You are not bringing a First Aid Kit." James protested, rolling his eyes as the familiar, battered orange box was placed among sleeping bags and marshmallows.

Max didn't particularly like it, either, thinking that the Band-Aids and antiseptic might just be asking for trouble, on the other hand… "It's like bringing an umbrella when it's cloudy. It never rains."

"Speaking of rain…" JT looked at the sky warily, as if just the mention of the word would send the sky tumbling down.

"No umbrellas!" James said, annoyed. They were camping three hundred yards from the house, on the far, rocky edge of the lake. It could hardly be described as "roughing it". And they weren't going to bring any umbrellas.

"Yeah," Max put in, for once on James' side. "No umbrellas." Then he turned to the youngest, "And no books."

"Hey! This is quality reading here."

"Ugly nerd."

"Illiterate jerk." James turned away, breathing hard. He knew that it was one of the conditions for this camp out, that the older boys would have to suffer him along. It was more than a little annoying to know that he wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the Guardian's directive to 'play nice.'

In typical fashion, he lashed out at the next thing that came even near to annoying him. "JT, really? A camera?"

"Show some respect, Jimmy, it's not just any camera." The look JT gave to the object was one of unholy infatuation. "She's special."

"Ugh." Max said, punching his best friend's shoulder playfully. "She's so going back to the farmhouse with Ben."

Here Ben put up his hands again, unwilling to get in the middle of a little healthy, future-Triad rivalry. "I'm not a pack mule, guys, this is between you all." He needed to get back to those applications, which involved an ungodly amount of writing the same information over…and over…and over.

Another fight seemed brewing, and Ben figured this was as good a time as any to make his way back to the house. "Don't scream unless you're dying," were his parting words, though he wasn't sure if he could be heard over the bickering.

"Have fun in the woods."

Eighteen Years Before

"Fun in the woods? Damien, you have to be kidding me." Dean could think of few things that were less fun than woods, which, in his memory, always meant a demon, spirit, or monster of some kind.

Caleb looked unreasonably happy about their foray, though perhaps it could just be residual good cheer over having Dean back among the land of the living. "We need to change your perception of forests, Deuce. Camping's supposed to be fun."

"Yeah," Sam said, tripping over a root and nearly sending his lanky body sprawling. "Fun."

The older hunters snorted at the youngest, who, even when they were younger, had never understood what the other two knew intuitively - how to move through dense underbrush without making a sound.

Dean turned back to Caleb, ignoring the loud swears from behind him. "We don't have time for this. We should be fighting a war."

"You need to relax." Caleb knew all about wars, a lot about demons, and even a little about these new angels. And he also knew that Dean had been running himself ragged since his miraculous return from Hell. "You used to know how to have fun."

"Back when we weren't the only ones fighting."

Caleb frowned. "We are not the only hunters out here, dude. We may have lost Johnny and Pastor Jim but there's still the Brotherhood -"

"In shambles."

"Don't be so negative." Caleb shook his head. "Last time I try to take you on a vacation."

"It's not a vacation." Sam tripped again, this time sending the bags he was carrying flying. "Damnit! A little help here, guys?"

"You're still the youngest, bro. We get to protect you with our lives…"

"And you get to carry the bags. It's a fair deal, Sammy."

"Not with the Sammy thing again." Sam muttered, picking himself up, running his hands briskly over his heavy jacket to brush the debris away. "We're supposed to be looking for Joshua."

"Sawyer got lost?" Dean smiled for the first time since they'd entered the woods. "Always knew he was a lousy hunter."

"He was after a rugaru." Sam said, "Carolyn called. Why else would I let Caleb drag us out on a camping trip in the middle of January?"

"He was hunting alone?" Dean snapped. It was the number one rule of hunters. Going solo got you killed. "Why?"

"He was chasing a rumor, Deuce, and , as you just pointed out, the Brotherhood is spread too thin to send two people on a wild goose chase." The look in Dean's eyes was not amused. He already knew his place as the future Guardian – and Joshua's as the future Advisor. Like Pastor Jim, he felt responsible for everyone lost on the battle field. So Caleb backed up, "We've checked on rugaru rumors in these hills for the past dozen years. We've never found one, figured it was just wolves scaring the civvies."

"Tell that to Josh." Dean said shortly, and picked up their pace.

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