Title - The Dark Horse

Summary - What is a father supposed to do when he hears whispers that his fifteen-year-old son is tainted by the very thing that killed the love of his life? John Winchester uncovers the terrifying truth about his youngest son's cruel destiny and will stop at nothing to protect him from the truth.

Part of The Dark Horse series

"The Dark Horse"

"Chapter One: Tragedy Meets Choices"

'Once upon a time' was not a phrase in John Winchester's vocabulary. The simple phrase that starts out nearly every fairy tale meant a happy ending was bound to follow a long, winding road. Except there was no such thing as a happy ending. There was only death at the end of every story. So the absurdity of 'once upon a time' lies within the fact that there never was once upon a time. No, there was rather a 'tragedy struck and choices were made'. That was the mentality of John. Tragedy meets choices - that was how he lived.

John vowed he'd never step foot in the place again, but a tragedy struck and he needed to make a choice. It had been three years, and he still felt the weight of guilt residing on his shoulders. He was uncertain if he could face them, but he knew he didn't have a choice in the matter. The Harvelle's Roadhouse was the only place that could help him find Douglas Hale and Ben Seraph. They were the only people who held answers on what happened to Mary.

Mary told him long ago, about how her parents had died in a fire when she was just a baby. Her life then went on to traveling the countryside with her big brother Ben and her uncle Douglas. John didn't know much about the duo except that they positively loathed the fact that Mary settled down and started a family. He'd only met the pair a couple times and none of those times was pleasant.

Cutting the engine to the Impala, John leaned back into the leather bench seat as he stared up at the building. It had taken him a year to build up enough courage to even drive towards the Roadhouse. A year before when a demon twisted his thoughts around and made him attack his oldest son. A year since a demon named Abaddon asked him to get rid of a fellow demon that went by Azazel. Azazel had known Mary and her family and brought the same tragedy to both the Seraph and Winchester families - or so this Abaddon demon said.

The door to the Impala squeaked open loudly as John hauled his tall frame out of the muscle car. Straightening his jacket, he walked towards the saloon's front door and entered. The bar was empty except for a couple hunters John didn't recognize in the corner and two at the bar.

Danny Travis stood behind the bar pouring a shot of liquor into a glass for a young guy John didn't recognize. There was no way that the kid receiving the alcohol could have been older than his nineteen-year-old son Dean. John squared his shoulders and walked towards the bar.

"What the fuck are you doing here, Johnny?" questioned Danny once he took notice of the newcomer. "Ellen made herself clear when she said she didn't want you coming around here anymore."

Danny Travis had been with the Harvelle family since he was fifteen. The kid's parents had been murdered by a shape shifter when Bill found him huddled in a corner scared out of his wits. He'd taken the kid in, given him a home, and allowed him to work to earn his keep. Ellen and Bill had taught him the horrors that lurked in the shadows, had taught him how to defend himself against the creatures that loomed in the closets. A teenager was faced with the tragedy of two dead parents, and he made the choice to hunt.

"Is Ellen here?"

"What makes you think she even wants to see you let alone talk to you, you son-of-bitch?" Danny stood his ground as he settled the bottle of alcohol on the table. "Get out."

"What? You gonna act like a tough guy, Danny? You gonna throw a punch at an ex-Marine, because I will kick your ass into next Tuesday if you even think about punching me out."

The air grew tense as the three remaining pairs of eyes in the Roadhouse focused on the two hunters. Danny and John never got along. There had never been trust between the two. On more than one occasion, John told his friends to kick the kid to the curb. He was more trouble than he was worth.

"Danny," Ellen spoke sternly as she appeared in the doorway, "go get some beer from the basement. Rick, Sweetie, why don't you see if those two gentlemen in the corner need anything for me. Hmm?"

"Ellen," started Danny in warning.

"Basement now. Go get Jo if you need some help."

Rick grabbed his beer when Ellen snatched it out of his hand before throwing it in the nearest bin. She pointed towards the patrons before giving Danny a stern glare. Both boys retreated to do what Ellen had asked of them. Turning her attention on John, she forced a weak smile onto her face.

"Rick is best friends with Danny and only eighteen. I'm constantly slapping that boy's wrist to stop handing out alcohol like candy," said Ellen to break the ice. "Stupid kids. I swear, Danny's twenty-five going on fourteen."

"That's little Rick, huh? Hamilton Slane's kid who could forge documents like a pro at thirteen?"

"More like Hamilton's kid who's a pain in my ass."

John chuckled and suddenly began to realize how much he had missed Ellen. They were like his home away from home. They meant the world to him. He could remember the long nights where Ellen and him would drink beer and talk about their pain in the ass children. He missed their late night talks. They had been best friends at one point: John, Ellen, and Bill until one grave hunt changed that all.

"Look, John, hunting is a dangerous gig. Bill's been hunting since he was real small. He would have died if you were there or not. If Hamilton or Bobby or anyone else had been with him that night, it probably would have turned out the same. I forgave you a long time ago, John, so don't become a stranger on me now."

No, Bill would still be alive if John had nothing to do with the hunt. It was him, purely his fault, that Bill died that night. No one else would have pulled that trigger. He had the choice and was living with the consequences.

"Do you… you know a pair of guys named Douglas Hale and Ben Seraph?"

"Doug and Ben? Yeah, Sweetie, I know 'em. Why?"

"I'm looking for them."

Ellen leaned back onto the bar as her eyes wandered over to the hunters in the corner of the room talking in low tones with Rick. Her eyes glanced back at John. She took her time formulating the words in her mouth.

"Doug died last year. A demon got the best of him."

"Do you know where Ben is?"

"John, look, Ben Seraph is dangerous and unhinged. The guy would rather kill you than work with you. The only person he ever worked well with was his uncle. When Doug died, Ben came in here looking to get completely shitfaced. The guy drank himself into the hospital. I misjudged his weight, and he… just collapsed. Danny had to haul his ass to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. Ben came back here once released and beat the living daylights out of Danny for allowing him to live." Ellen sighed. "Ben is not someone you want to go messing around with."

John could picture Ben being the jerk that Ellen was describing. He could remember the last time he talked to Ben Seraph. Mary had gone to Billings, Montana because Doug had wound up in the hospital. He went there to be with her when Ben broke down into a fight with John in the middle of the waiting room. That was when Mary picked John. The only contact after that incident was random postcards from Doug to let her know they were all right. It wasn't until years later did he actually understood that they were hunters.

"Trust me, I know. I gotta talk to him though."

"You see those guys in the corner? That's Gordon Walker and Jack Kubrick. Gordon was out on a hunt down in New Orleans. Small groups of fangs were down there so he went to investigate. He ran into Ben down there. Gordon was used as bait and nearly died. Ben left Gordon there to die. It wasn't just using him as bait; it was tying the guy up and cutting him open for the fang to come feast. He was damn lucky Kubrick was in town."

"So this Gordon almost got turned, huh?"

"Yeah, and he's only twenty-three. Damn, John, Gordon hasn't even been hunting that long. Who knows what kind of damage this had on the kid's mind."

John thanked Ellen quickly before walking towards the small group of hunters hidden beneath the shadows. He took a seat next to the older of the two guys as Rick scrammed from the table. Gordon Walker looked across the table. The kid looked horrible with a busted lip, a giant bruise formulating around his left eye, and a large white bandage disappearing beneath his shirt.

"I hear Ben Seraph did that to you." John didn't go through formalities but rather just cut to the chase. It was always best when dealing with hunters. "What a bastard."

"You come here just to piss me off or you got something to say?" asked Gordon.

John kinda liked the kid. He was rough around the edges and didn't take bullshit from anyone. Obviously, the kid didn't like to played or manipulated. He was heads on and knew what he wanted.

"I'm looking for the guy."

"Oh, yeah, and who are you?"

"John Winchester," he introduced himself half-heartedly. "Now, are you gonna help me out or do I have to beat it out of you?"

"John Winchester?" the kid asked. "Man, I've heard a lot about you, and I gotta say it's an honor. The word is that you're one of the best hunters there is."

"If you're trying to kiss my ass, do stop. I don't take well to suck-ups."

Gordon looked slightly taken aback. He glanced over at his buddy, who was wedged between the wall and John, in surprise.

"The man is just as great as the legend I guess," he settled on saying. "Last I saw of Ben Seraph was him running after a fang and leaving the other fang to feast on me."

"Then what?"

"Then I found him," Kubrick spoke up, "and rescued my friend."

"How did you even know Gordy was in trouble?" questioned John.

"God let me know Gordon needed me."

John looked at him dubiously but refrained from saying anything. He glanced to his left to see Kubrick smiling as though he were remembering the grandest time of his life. These two clowns would get themselves killed if they continued to hunt, that much John was sure of. He turned back to look at Gordon since he seemed to be the more sane one of the two.

"What else can you tell me? Did Seraph say anything to you at all that might indicate where he was going?"

"He said he'd save me a seat in hell and then ran after the fang," explained Gordon.

"Sounds like you two didn't get along."

"I only talked to him for ten minutes about the job before he invited me to join him," he spat. "If I'd have known that he was buckets of crazy, I wouldn't have hunted with him."

"Amateur," muttered John. "You don't trust anyone; you don't hunt with anyone else. It'll get you killed, Kid."

Years ago, when John first started to hunt about fifteen years ago, he made a similar novice mistake. He had trusted Daniel Elkins with his life, trusted Elkins with his kids' lives. Then, one morning, the older hunter tells him to get rid of the boys or else he'd get rid of them. He said that the boys would only distract John and everybody would die. The guy was a quack.

"Thanks for your help," he said bitterly. "A little bit of advice, Gordy, stop while you're ahead. All right?"

Standing up from the booth, John made his way towards the bar. Ellen and Danny stood behind the wood talking in hushed tones. John walked up to the bar and ignored Danny's glares. Ellen, on the other hand, smiled weakly as she saw him approach. It was now or never.

"Hey, Ellen, will you give me a call if you find out where Ben might be?"

Pulling out a pen and a piece of scrap paper, John wrote down his number and handed it to the woman. She took the paper and glanced at it briefly before nodding. John forced a smile before leaving the Roadhouse.

He was on his way back to Denver, Colorado where his boys were holed up in an apartment when his cell phone rang. The whole cell phone business was particularly new to John. His oldest son had somehow managed to convince to get one. Every time the damn thing rang, he couldn't help but think that his boys were in some sort of trouble. So he dug through his leather jacket pocket with one hand and tried to keep the car steady with the other until he produced a large, black cell phone.

"Dean, what's wrong?"

"I'm sure the boys are fine," a familiar voice wafted into his ear. "I have a favor to ask of you."

"Who the hell is this?"

"Jim Murphy from Blue Earth. We've talked a few times over the past, oh, fifteen years I would say in case you forgot."

"Jim? Oh, hey, what do you need?"

John eased into the bench seat. The boys were still fine. Even after all the times he's left them both alone, they were still small children in his mind. Dean was only nineteen, and Sammy was only fifteen. He worried about them more than anyone or anything else in the world.

"How far are you from Blue Earth?"

"I just crossed into Colorado. The boys are staying outside of Denver. Why? You okay?"

"I have a… hunting dilemma."

"You've been hunting longer than me, Jim; I think you can get it under control. I want to get home and see my boys. I've been gone for two days already."

"John, I wouldn't ask this of you if it wasn't important."

Within the next five minutes, the pastor convinced John to travel to Blue Earth. Next thing he knew, he was dialing the number to the apartment. He let it ring once and then hung up before calling again. Dean answered the phone out of breath.

"Hey, Dude, what's going on?" he questioned with slight concern in his voice.

"Nothing. We're fine, Dad, I swear. I'm just teaching the little jerk how to defend himself against a big bad bully instead of fleeing like a little girl."

In the background, he heard his youngest protest loudly at the very prospect of being a girl. Sam had been having trouble with bullies ever since he started school. The kid was awkward, shy, and small - the perfect prey for insecure asshole kids to take a jab. Dean had been fighting his battles with idle threats and cracking knuckles. Except, Dean couldn't always fight Sammy's battles. Not to mention, nowadays, Sam was growing like a weed, growing faster than John was able to buy him clothes, and was more than capable of taking care of himself.

"Hey, listen, you know that emergency money I left you two?"

"Yeah, what about it? Sammy, would you freakin' stop?"

"Pastor Jim just called. He needs me for something over in Minnesota. Can you boys last a couple more days or do you want me stop by to get you more provisions and crap?"

"Uh, the fridge is kinda empty, but I can go out and get some stuff. We have about seven hundred dollars left in emergency cash. We'll be fine."

"You're sure?"

"Dad, come on, we're fine. Tell Pastor Jim he still owes me fifty bucks."

"Why the hell would Jim owe you fifty bucks?"

"Hey, Dad, even pastors have to pay off their gambling debts."

Jim wasn't one for gambling. In fact, the pastor condemned it as though it were one of the seven deadly sins. Except, about two months ago, both Sam and Dean contracted the stomach flu while John was away on a hunt. Jim, per John's request, spent the weekend with them until John could get home. Whenever the boys were sick, Jim would do just about anything to make them happy. What made Dean happy was swindling people out of as much money as he could muster. The fact that Jim only owed fifty bucks showed that Dean held restraint in his gambling efforts.

"Dad, I gotta go, okay? Sammy's throwing a fit."

"Is he all right?" Concern laced John's words.

"Oh, yeah. He's just nervous about his date with Kelly Tinker tonight. If he's lucky, perhaps he'll lose his virginity to that tight body."

In the background, he heard Sammy scoffing and attempting to wrestle the phone out of his brother's hand. John sighed as his grip on the cell phone tightened. Sometimes, just sometimes, he wished that his boys weren't so damn normal. Dean was the classic horndog teenager while Sam was the classic awkward geek. Together, they were the classic set of brothers.

"Hey, stop screwing around, you two!"

"Yeah, Sam, stop screwing around."

"Dean, give Sammy the phone."

There was more rustling until Sam nervously said hello to his father. John could practically hear the kid twitching anxiously on the other end. The very prospect of talking about sex to his father was mortifying. John remembered he tried to sit the kid down to have the jerking off talk. Sammy squirmed in his seat for a few minutes before blurting out that Dean already taught him everything he needed to know and he didn't want to have this conversation with his father.


"Sam. It's Sam, Dad, for the billionth time already. Sammy's a little kid's name. I'm fifteen."

"Sam, listen to me. Whatever Dean may have told you about sex and how to get into Kelly Tinker's pants," John started out and he was certain his youngest was blushing and squirming, "you treat her like a lady, young man. Don't you dare force her into anything she doesn't want to do. If you…"

God, John couldn't believe the words of sex were leaving his mouth over a cell phone to Sammy. Except, he gave the talk to Dean a year too late and his oldest was a lost cause on the ways of maturity in sexual relations.

"If you do find yourself with this girl, you better use protection. God, Sam, just, try to avoid, all right? You're freakin' fifteen years old for Christ Sakes."

"Dad, tell Pastor Jim I said hi."

The phone went dead. With a heavy side, John tossed the cell phone down next to him and settled in for the drive to Blue Earth.

John passed Pastor Jim's church before turning onto the dirt road that led to the ranch-style house in the back. The familiar yellow '72 GMC Sierra Custom Camper was parked in front as well as a red 1989 Chevrolet Camaro which John didn't recognize. Cutting the engine, he hauled his frame out of the Impala and strolled towards the front door. Before he could even knock, Jim opened the door and ushered his friend inside.

Walking into the living room, John noted a young kid sitting on the couch with his elbows propped on his knees. The kid was older than Dean by a couple of years, perhaps two or three. His dark hair was long and shaggy just like Sammy's. A couple days stubble graced his chin. He wore ripped jeans and a faded WC shirt. Looped around his neck was a familiar protection amulet but John couldn't place the specifics about it.

The kid stood up, wiping his hands on his jeans. He extended a hand towards John and forced a smile onto his face. His eyebrows rose, anticipation crossing his features. Not knowing what else to do, John reached out and grasped the kid's hand into his.

"Thanks for meeting me," said the kid. "Pastor Jim said that you were the guy to go to."
John raised his eyebrows in surprise and tried to figure out what the kid was talking about. Then it hit him. Jim, the bastard, set this up. He glanced towards the pastor with confusion and slight anger. Jerking his hand away, John looked back at the kid who was adjusting his posture.

"I'm Joshua Harper," he introduced himself.

"John Winchester."

"Mister Winchester, I just want to thank you for doing this."

"Doing what?"

John glanced over at Jim. He was pissed off. He knew exactly where this was going, and he didn't like it one bit. Jim merely smiled before titling his head in defeat.

"You know, John," Jim started, "when you first started out it was up to myself and Daniel Elkins to show you the ropes so you didn't get yourself killed."

"You want me to take in pretty boy and show him how to hunt?" he scoffed.

"Joshua has been through quite a lot, Jonathan, and I expect you to take him under your wing. If not for Daniel and myself, your sons would very well be orphans by now."

"How dare you use that against me?"

"It's the code, John."

"Fuck the code."

No way in hell was John taking the kid home, introduce him to his sons, and teach him how to defeat the creatures that lurked in the shadows. John already had enough jobs to do and didn't have the time to baby-sit some punk ass kid who was caught up in the fervor of hunting.

"Experienced hunters take in recruits and show them the way. It's your job to pay back what Daniel and I did for you."

"Have Elkins take the kid in."

"Daniel is in no state of mind to take in a protégé."

Glancing towards the kid, John took him in. He wasn't totally hopeless. He looked like an athlete with some muscle mass to him. Despite that, this kid - Joshua - looked broken and scared. John suspected that the kid didn't have it in him to last in the hunting world.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-one, Sir," he replied.

"You go to college?"

"Used to. Westminster for political science. I dropped out to become a hunter."

"Why the hell would you throw your life away like this?"

The kid hesitated as a pained expression crossed his face. Joshua refused to look at John until he got his emotions under control. Sniffing, the kid looked back at the older hunter.

"Some son-of-a-bitch killed my baby sister. She was only sixteen."

Sighing heavily, John understood the kid's need for revenge. It was noble, John had to hand it to him. Except, this kid was throwing away his whole life for vengeance that might not ever come. John had been looking for Mary's killer for fifteen years and was still wandering around blind looking for it. All he had was a name, Azazel, which could be a pure BS lead from some whack demon. That was all John had to work with, demon information and false hope.

"You really want to be a hunter?"

"I can't… I can't go back, Sir. I can't go back to college and get my degree knowing that there are things, nightmare things out there murdering innocent people like Audrey. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I don't hunt them down."

"What killed your sister? Do you know?"

"John, I hardly think you should be asking him that," interrupted Jim.

"Nah, Pastor Jim, it's all right. I gotta be able to talk about it, this kind of stuff, if I'm gonna be a hunter, right?"

The kid looked up at John as though he held all the answers in the world. His face was pleading for the older hunter to give me a reason to go on, to hunt. John swallowed the lump in his throat and just nodded numbly.

"There's a pastor back in Bayfield, Wisconsin where I used to live. He, uh, noted the lunar cycle and said a werewolf killed Audrey. That's what he thinks at least. Then he told me to come meet up with Pastor Jim, said that he knew a lot more hunters and was in a training program of sorts."

"Training program?" questioned John as he glanced at his friend.

"I've pointed a lot of novice hunters into the direction of professional hunters," supplied Jim almost indifferently. "I have connections being a pastor and all."

"The things you learn about a guy."

"You know I've trained hunters before, gave them connections. Just because you only know Caleb doesn't mean you two were the only ones I've ever taken in."

John trained his gaze back on Joshua Harper who looked a lot younger than twenty-one in that moment. He looked like a lost kid trying to find his parents in a crowded mall.

"Pastor Jim says you got two boys, teenagers. He also said you're really protective of them. I promise that no matter what I learn about you and your family, I would never betray you guys. Mister Winchester, please, I just want to help people."

"It would do the boys some good to spend some time with a kid around their age that they can openly talk about hunting with," Jim suggested.

"My dad was a Navy officer. He died when I was twelve, but he taught me how to shoot a gun by the time I was eight. I've always kept going back to the shooting range to… you know. So, I know a bit about guns and such."

A part of John wanted to take Joshua in, because he'd feel damn guilty if the kid died without his training. Another part didn't have the patience to take in an apprentice. There was also caution in the situation. Did he really want his kids mingling with a complete stranger? Joshua could very well be some punk ass kid who'd turn on his family in a heartbeat if the situation arose. Could he really take that chance?

"He checks out, John," Jim said suddenly as though reading his friend's thoughts. "Pastor Orson from Bayfield contacted me, told me about Audrey and Joshua. He's legit and just wants to hunt. Most of us, John, we all start out the same. A loved one dies at the hands of something supernatural. Half of us will deny it, call it a freak accident, go on with our lives. The other half of us knows that there was foul play no matter how crazy it sounds. You and I both know from experience, John. Both of us started out just like Joshua. It's our duty to teach him."

John looked at his friend and just nodded. He never fully learned Jim's story and how he got into hunting. All he knew was that Jim's brother had been murdered by something supernatural, and he joined the crusade. It wasn't discussed in length, and John never minded. He didn't need to know specifics. He just needed to know that Jim was someone he could talk to, count on, trust.

Glancing over at Joshua, he saw a kid who witnessed an unspeakable tragedy and made a choice to save others from the same tragedy. John would be lying if he said he didn't relate to the kid, didn't feel for him.

"Look, kid, I'll take you in. Trust me, though, if you do anything to either one of my sons, I will murder you with my bare hands. We clear?"

"Mister Win-"

"John. Call me John."

The kid broke out into a wide grin, a wave of relief crossing his face.

"Call me Joshua then. Uh, John, I wouldn't dream of hurting you or your boys." He paused for several seconds as though debating whether or not he should continue. "How old are they? I'm just… curious."

"Sammy's fifteen and Dean's nineteen."

"Awesome. So have they been hunting long?"

"They've grown up hunters, Joshua. My boys could beat you at anything. They're smart and they're well-trained."

"Bobby dropped by a couple days ago and installed a cache in his trunk. I've supplied him with the necessities and told him about Caleb. All he needs from you are the tricks of the trade." Jim turned his attention towards Joshua. "You have my number if you need anything. Call me anytime you want. I've put John's number in there as well in case you two ever get separated during a hunt. Be careful, watch yourself, watch who you're with. There's a certain amount of trust that needs to be established between you and John. You two have to count on each other in order to watch each other's backs. You watch his and his boys' backs, John will trust you in no time, m'boy."

"Thank you for… everything."

"No need to thank me, Joshua. Stay safe. John, tell the boys I said hello."

"Oh, yeah, Dean said you owe him fifty bucks and Sammy says hi."

"Tell Dean that I want a rematch, and that I resent that he hustled a man of God," Jim said with amusement.

John and Joshua bid their goodbyes before exiting the pastor's house. Once at the Impala, John looked up to see the kid fumbling with his keys while standing next to the Camaro. He seemed uncertain on what to do.

"We're going to Denver. My boys are there. You'll follow me."

With that, John hauled his body into the Impala and started the engine. He waited several seconds until he heard the Camaro roar to life as well. The drive to Denver was not a peaceful one. He knew that as soon as the boys met Joshua, they would each have very different feelings on the matter. Sam would be either indifferent or elated to have someone else to talk to. Dean, on the other hand, would not welcome the young hunter into their lives. His eldest was the most protective of the small family. He didn't like change, he didn't accept strangers, and didn't trust easily.

Pulling into the small parking lot of the apartment complex, John cut the engine and waited for Joshua to park next to him. The kid got out of the Camaro immediately after parking next to John and waited nervously with his hands in his pockets.

"You ready, Joshua?" called John as he exited the Impala. "We're going to stake out here for a bit until I get us a job. Make yourself comfortable."

"Yes, Sir, Mister Winchester."

"I thought I said to call me John," he said dryly as they walked in step towards the entrance of the building. "Mister Winchester was my father."

"Sorry, John."

"You know, Joshua, my boys can smell fear from a mile away, and they won't hesitate to take advantage of that." Sighing, John faltered in his stride. "I get that you're scared shitless. You've believed your whole life that monsters aren't real, and now you find yourself on the path of becoming a supernatural hunter for the rest of your life. It's daunting, and I get that. I've been there, kid. I've been in your position before with a four year old and a six month old in tow. After your first hunt, your first kill, you get it. It's like something clicks in your mind. You just get it."

Joshua snuffled his feet as he stared at John as though he half expected some sort of greater epiphany to appear. Forcing a smile, the kid just nodded.

"Did your sons get it when they were on their first hunt?"

"No, they already got it long before then. This life is all Sammy ever knew. This life is the only thing that makes sense to Dean. They were so young when they were thrown into this life that they already… you and me have the challenge. We made the choice. We knew life before the darkness, before the monsters. Sometimes, you have a hunt and you can't comprehend it. You doubt what you find because it's ridiculous. Sam and Dean don't doubt it. They've grown up believing that everything exists. You know what I'm saying?"

The kid just nodded in understanding. John stared at Joshua and couldn't help but feel sorry for the kid. He was twenty-one, on the verge of graduating college, had the kid sister, had the caring mom, and then everything was thrown into a whirlwind. John empathized with him. He had the grand life with the perfect wife, two cute kids, a steady job, a nice house only to have it burn away in less than ten minutes.

"If you don't mind me by asking, Sir, you got into hunting because of your… wife?"

"Yeah, Mary, she, uh, died a long time ago."

"You ever catch what killed her?"

Fifteen years. Fifteen years and John didn't have any concrete evidence on what happened to his wife. He guessed a demon because that was the conclusion of other hunters and seemed like the most probable. He'd heard whispers about what happened that night, about what happened to other unsuspecting families that year. He'd found other families who went through the same strange set of occurrences.

"It was a demon," he decided on saying. "I'm still hunting the bastard down."

"John, did you… did you see it happen?" Joshua's voice cracked. "'Cause I saw Audrey ripped to shreds, and I can't… I can't close my eyes without seeing it happen over and over again. Does it ever go away?"

A part of John screamed to tell the kid the truth that the images never went away and the pain never lessened. He could tell the truth to the kid, tell him that the only thing that keeps a person going after watching a loved one die in such a grotesque way was to keep moving, to keep hunting. Except John didn't want to be responsible for breaking the boy, for taking away what little innocence he had left.

"I'll let you know," he responded hoarsely before turning to walk out of the parking garage with Joshua in tow.

Author's Notes - This is the first chapter of the title piece of the series. The next chapter is packed full of interesting tidbits and some action. The hunt will officially begin. Don't forget to leave a little review to tell me if I've caught your interest.

Huge thanks to Shannon for editing.