"Carry on my wayward son. There'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don't you cry no more." Kansas
Eighteen Years Ago
By the time Joshua's fever broke, Sam had started a fire worthy of a Boy Scout merit badge and Dean had managed to prepare the food they'd brought (back when he'd just thought this was a camping trip) into a pretty decent meal. At least, he liked to think that it was the pleasant aromas that lured Joshua into the land of the living.
Caleb, for his part, never left Joshua's side. Something about their parent's strange relationship, or about the fact that he and Josh went back a couple of decades, kept him rooted at the spot, cleaning and dressing the wounds that desperately needed a hospital, trying to bring down the fever brought on by whatever concoction Sam had whipped together. But it was better than death, better than mutation into their worst nightmare, and Caleb found himself thanking his lucky stars for a high fever.
"Is he changing?" Dean asked ever so often, and Caleb would shake his head before going back to his ministrations.
"I told you." Sam said from his place by the fire, and Dean would retort that Sam hadn't seemed so damn confident a couple of hours before.
Joshua woke up to little fanfare, his blue eyes blinking open and reflecting the flickering fire for a full minute before anyone even noticed. Sam put down his camp rations and said, softly. "How you feeling, Joshua?"
"You up, Sawyer?" Caleb asked, glancing down at the older man. "If you'd waited another half hour I wouldn't owe Deuce ten bucks."
"Sorry my reawakening from a rogaru-induced coma isn't convenient for you, Reaves." Joshua's words were raspy, harsh, and pain-filled, but at least they were coherent, if barely audible.
"Sounds like yet another near-death experience didn't sweeten your personality." Caleb said dryly. His voice became gentler, though, when he noticed the shivers that rocked Joshua's body. "You cold?"
Within a half-hour, Joshua was leaning against a stump softened by Sam's bag, wearing all three other hunters' coats and still shaking. He needed a hospital in a bad way, and there was little hope of him getting down the mountain under his own power. The next morning, Sam would leave at dawn to get help, and Joshua would be in a hospital by the next afternoon.
They had to get through that first night first, though, and that first night sucked.
"Hey, don't fall asleep." Dean murmured, touching Joshua's wrist.
Joshua's eyes, which had begun to roll back into his head, snapped back towards Dean. He looked pained, and the stress showed plainly on his face. He turned his head slightly so that he was looking at Caleb. "You didn't kill me."
"The remedy worked."
"Must have been close."
"Are you sorry?" Caleb's voice held a note of animosity in it, and Joshua winced as all the other memories, which had sluggishly been coming back to his pain-addled mind, suddenly returned full force. Carolyn was pregnant. He'd been here on a risky hunt alone because he was scared of fatherhood.
He held Caleb's gaze long enough for the other hunter to know that Joshua remembered everything. Long enough for Caleb to know exactly what he meant when he said, "No. I'm not sorry at all."
After all, he had a son he had to raise.
Present Time – Two Weeks Later
"Where's Max?" Caleb asked, glancing at the clock the hung in the kitchen. Damn. He'd been talking to Dean for hours without noticing the time. "Did he come back in?"
"No." Joshua said, casting an anxious glance at the kitchen door. "Do you think we should…?"
"He's been cooped up for two weeks, let him enjoy the great outdoors while he can." Dean said placating, and then called, loudly, "JT!"
"Ahh…" Said Caleb, tapping the side of his nose. "Now I see how the Guardian has eyes and ears everywhere. He gets his sons to do the dirty work. "
"Damn straight." Dean muttered as JT came loping down the stairs. He fitted a more serious face on, raising an eyebrow at his middle son. "There a particular reason why you're not with Max?"
JT, in turn, furrowed his brow. "Am I supposed to be?"
"Seeing as the two of you are joined at the hip," Caleb drawled, "That would be a 'yes'."
JT shrugged, avoiding Joshua's gaze uncomfortably. He still didn't feel right around the Advisor, even though he knew that the older Sawyer didn't blame him for Max's near-death experience. Mac would say he was avoiding Joshua out of his own residual guilt, and Mac would be right. "He hasn't been alone since before we went camping. I thought I'd just give him some space."
"So he told you buzz off." Caleb surmised, "And is now wandering around the farm - the one that we know can be penetrated by demons and other nasty baddies - all by his lonesome?"
"I thought the farm was safe now." JT said, concern creeping into his voice as he turned to his father for confirmation. "Right?" The Guardian nodded, still staring at JT, waiting. The young man sighed, rubbing his good hand absentmindedly across the mostly-healed black eye his best friend had given him weeks ago. "You want me to find him?"
He turned before any of them could answer audibly, wondering for the briefest instant why he'd gotten stuck with this job. It seemed like the whole world had moved into the old farmhouse after the attack – Josie and Mary were in the living room with Mac, and the old man was learning about the hottest gossip amongst tween girls; James was with Uncle Sam in the tomb, and Sam was trying to teach JT's brother something about his powers so that the attack that had made him scream so much out by the lake couldn't happen again; even Ben was around, packing for the last time since his flight out to his new Fellowship was the very next morning.
So, JT supposed, he might be the best candidate for this job (seeing as he wasn't caught up in anything important.) Didn't mean he wanted it.
He and Max were best friends for life, and that's not just one of those corny sayings kids put in each other's year books. He could talk to Max about things he would never talk to his brothers or father about, talk about insecurities and furtive desires and deepest wishes that anyone else would brush aside but best friends are obligated to take seriously.
But then he'd seen how far that friendship went. Yeah, he knew that as the next Triad they'd have to have each other's backs. Yes, they'd taken turns getting hurt on hunts before. But never before had it been this voluntary thing, where Max had stepped up and said "take me" without letting the others put in their two cents.
So for the past two weeks it had been JT avoiding Max, or Max ducking his head whenever JT walked into a room, which was different, strange. JT was so used to having Max there for him that to suddenly be in this weird Cold War made the whole world seem like it was turned on its head.
Scouting out Max was not hard. Just about everyone went to the barn when they needed some space, and the loft that they used to play in so often has children had a tell-tale pair of dangling feet hanging off of it.
JT climbed the ladder, rested his head on his arms as he looked at Max for a moment before the other boy knew he was there.
Max looked awful. Bruises were in their last stages of healing (and why was it that they always looked worse at the end? Yellow and green and blue?) and there was a bandage wrapped around his head, stark white and glowing in the semi-darkness. JT sighed, and Max whipped around at the noise, fists clenched for a fight.
"I come in peace," JT said, hands up. "Everyone just wanted to make sure you're okay."
"I haven't started spontaneously bleeding to death." Max said, which isn't really an answer, and JT recognized that. He moved closer, closer, until he and Max were side-by-side. There was something between them, something in the air, in their hearts, that stopped this from being an easy interaction between two best friends.
"I'm sorry, Max." JT said. Mostly because whenever something went wrong, JT always played peacemaker. He apologized on everyone's behalf. But also because he felt more than a little guilty for the scars his friend would carry for the rest of his life. "It shouldn't have been your responsibility to do that for me and James."
"I wanted to." Max said, his tone so surprised that JT had to believe him. "Really, J, I don't know what I'd be doing if I was in your shoes…if you were the one who'd nearly…whatever. I'd probably be hunting. Alone. In the dark."
JT smirked at that. "Sounds like you." He bumped his friend's shoulder with his, then pulled away hurriedly when Max hissed in pain. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I forgot you had a bruise there."
"Just assume I have bruises everywhere." Max said, "But it's okay, J. Really."
"What's wrong?" JT asked after a minute of quiet. "I mean, if you don't hate me for not stopping you from nearly dying, then why else have you been avoiding me all week?"
"You've been avoiding me, too." Max pointed out.
"Only because I thought you hated my guts." And he'd been too chicken to find out if his assumption was correct. Even the possibility that Max would hate him forever for the position he'd put the other boy in by the lake had been enough to drive JT away. But he was here now. "Something else is up, man."
Max shrugged, looking out into the barn, and suddenly JT remembered so many other times it was just him and Max in this loft, him and Max talking late into the night about nothing in particular, him and Max… "It's like…I don't know how to explain it, J. It's like I just had a taste of what the rest of my life is going to be."
"What do you mean?"
Max sighed. He didn't want to get into this, not now, not with his best friend, but the feeling that had started when he woke up to his father's face in the hospital had only grown in his fortnight of convalescing. "I never really wanted to go to college. I'm not excited about it like everyone in my class was. I just want to be a Knight, because I think I can be a really good one…but what if my whole life is just one demon after another? One crisis after another?"
"Then you'll have an interesting life." JT said firmly. That's what he told himself every time he thought of the sacrifices he was making to be in the Brotherhood – that he would have more experiences in his life than most people could have in a hundred lifetimes.
"That's what the Guardian and Caleb have been saying since we were old enough to spar, JT, but look at Caleb – he doesn't have a family, and Lidia ran out on Uncle Sam because she couldn't hack this life."
"You're already thinking about settling down? You getting soft on me?" But as soon as the words were out of his mouth JT realized what Max was getting at. They'd always known that their lives wouldn't be normal, but his injuries had been a wake-up call to Max.
"If that demon was the start of another war, what the hell am I going to do if I can't protect you and James through it all, huh? Believe it or not, I've had some sentimental thoughts about us growing old together."
JT nodded, put a hand on Max's shoulder very, very gently so as not to disturb the bruises that lay there. "Me too, man. And we'll do it."
"How do you know?" JT couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Max like this – vulnerable, seeking assurance. "How do you know it's going to be okay?"
"Because…." JT began, groping for words, "Because….there are ties that bind us, Max. You and me and James…we're all a part of something bigger. Our families. The Brotherhood. Humanity. And I like to believe those ties are stronger than whatever evil monsters the world throws at us."
"I hope you're right, JT." Max said, his eyes glinting silver, bronze, gold in the dying light. His mouth was pressed in a hard line, but he looked like he was trying to grope for the optimism his friend possessed. "God, JT, I hope you're right."