This was my first published story. It is in the zine A' Hunting We Will Go #1 published in May 2007. It was written over two years ago so hopefully I've progressed as a writer since then. Being a frustrated perfectionist, I'll be tweaking it a little as I post each chapter. There are probably things I'd change if I had the time to completely revamp it, but I put everything I had into it when I wrote it and I think the story holds up.

It is a total of six chapters, and approximately 25,000 words. The first five chapters are Wee!chesters while the final and longest chapter is set during Season One as Sam gains insight into his brother and what his life was like as a child.

Warnings for language and angst.

I hope you enjoy, B.J.

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This story is dedicated to Pandora Jazz and irismay42 who first read it when the zine came out and offered such encouraging words. Pandora Jazz further supported my writing endeavors by buying the zine, and irismay42 and I shared the great joy of having our first zine stories published in the same volume! Thanks, guys… for everything.

End of the Innocence

Chapter One - First Kill

"All right, Dean, this is it. This one's all yours." John gripped his son on the shoulder as anxious eyes gazed up into his own.

"I'm ready, Dad, no worries," Dean replied, confidence evident in his smooth and even tone.

"Just be careful, don't get cocky. They don't look that dangerous, but they are. Don't get too close. Remember the vital spots, head or heart. Make it clean. I'll be right behind you."

"Got it, Dad."

Dean took off through the brush, tracking the creature with a trained eye. The adrenaline started to course through his body as anticipation for his first kill brought him to the edge. All his training ultimately leading up to this moment when he could at last prove to his dad he was worthy.

No time now for doubt or uncertainty. Dad trusted in his abilities and he had waited his entire life to show he deserved that faith. He was Dad's soldier going into his first battle alone. This would prove once and for all he was a man, a soldier, a warrior ready to engage evil in Dad's mighty war.

The creature was swift and cunning, dodging through the thick underbrush, sensing its enemy in hot pursuit. Its legs twice as long as Dean's, making him exert double the effort in a vain attempt to keep up. His breathing was beginning to labor as the high elevation affected his lungs.

Slow and steady, son. Just keep on it and it will slow down eventually. Just don't lose it. John's guiding voice echoed in his head as he remembered years of insight culled at the side of his skilled hunter dad.

Man, if I could just remember half of what Dad's taught me over the years. All right, settle down, just relax and do your job. You know what to do, you're ready.

His feet started to slip on the wet mossy slick of the forest floor. Slow it down, take it easy. He shifted his trail to the side, away from the mossy sponge beneath his feet, his boots again finding solid ground, gripping the clay of the mountainside, picking up speed now, a steady rhythm to his breathing once more as he became more acclimated to the altitude. Quick and sure, past the boulders and down into the raging stream. Good thing that thunderstorm from last night ended before we took off on this hunt. Man, I'd hate being out here in that maelstrom.

His feet slipped slightly on the slick river rocks lining the stream, but his agility maintained his balance as he skimmed across the stream and onto the bank on the other side. The tracks still clear and barely ten minutes ahead of him, he could taste the kill, the thrill of victory awaiting him.

His mind blanked out the sound of his dad's steady footsteps behind him, focusing all attention on his prey. Dad was merely a witness to this hunt; this was his hunt, his conquest, his validation. He'd been on Dad's case for months to let him take on his first prey, to let him prove himself. Don't blow it now, don't disappoint him.

"I'm ready Dad; let me prove it to you. Please Dad. It's time."

"All right, Dean, but I'm going to be right there backing you up. This will be your hunt. Make me proud."

Nothing like a little Winchester pressure to make you feel right at home. Thing was, Dean was now used to pressure; he thrived on it, without it he felt lost, unfocused, free. Now that was a scary proposition. Living in the shadow of all the uncertainty of this world he sought out whatever structure he could grasp hold of in his life. He would never have the normal routine of regular kids: a real home, a steady school, household chores and hanging out at the mall, and he sure as hell didn't want that white bread existence. Still, he sought out some stability to hold firm to: Dad and Sammy and me. Taking care of Sammy and training with Dad. Order and orders.

Free time to squander away in a frivolous manner was certainly something he had never been accustomed to. Since the fire and his mom's death at the hands of evil he'd experienced little down time. Between taking care of Sammy, which turned out to be a full time job, and training to be that perfect soldier, there wasn't a lot of free time for personal pursuits, like school and friends, or figuring out what he wanted out of life.

Dean took it all in stride, 'cause if he worked really hard at his training, he could make Dad smile and that made it seem all right. Heck, that made it perfect. The fact was all Dean had in life was his dad and little brother Sammy, and he had convinced himself a long time ago that was enough; that they were all he really needed, and if he happened to be fortunate enough to have both of them proud of him, for different reasons, of course, but still, proud just the same, then he could exist in this world for another day. He might actually thrive.

He stopped and examined the ground. Something was wrong here and he wasn't quite sure what. The creature had changed course, it was now heading back up the mountain. What the hell?

Think, Winchester. It takes more effort to go uphill. It thinks it's stronger than you, it thinks it can outlast you. The hell it will!

His determination was now the fuel for this hunt; fire burning in his gut for this kill, stoked by his need to impress his dad, to fulfill his destiny and join the ranks of the hunters, to finally claim his rightful place. His weary legs turned upward on the mountain, maintaining a long stride back into the tree line, weaving between the trees like a dog running an agility course. His eyes trained on the signs left by this creature as it raced for freedom, not yet knowing it was doomed. A Winchester was on its trail and the Winchesters were fierce hunters, deadly and unstoppable. Relentless.

The storm clouds were once more threatening the late afternoon sky. The sun dipped behind one of the dark ominous clouds casting the forest in a surreal hazy fog. The visibility was less than fifty feet now and diminishing. Why couldn't the weather hold? A light rain started to fall, almost a mist, gently dampening the forest and bringing the cold of winter early into fall. The mist on his face ran into his eyes, making the Vaseline scene take on an even softer focus, bringing a new chill as it mixed with the sweat of his exertion, then evaporated off into the cool breeze. The frigid air was wisping down into his bones now, making him shiver beneath layers of warm clothing that failed to stop the freezing cold that had moved in and taken hold.

Dean was trying to gain some time on this creature, desperately wanting to cut short this hunt before the weather turned impossible. The mountain could be treacherous enough under cover of darkness, which would be upon them in a few short hours; with the rain and the unexpected cold it could turn deadly. Never underestimate the prey and never depend on the weather. Both can turn on you in seconds flat. Always be prepared.

His next step slipped off of the rain slicked moss and he went down hard on his left knee. His hand reached out to brace his fall, but only succeeded in scraping along the rough rocks and twisting to a precarious position. He let out a startling yelp as the pain shooting up his arm again reminded him to be slow and steady. Damn, why did I forget that lesson so soon? He touched his injured hand and wrist and a sharp, cutting pain greeted him and he cursed his haste.

Dude, I think you really did it now, it feels broken. It can't be broke, can it? Man, Dad will pull you off this hunt if he thinks you're injured so you better just suck it up and keep moving. You've waited too long for this; don't blow it now, Winchester.

Dad's footsteps were closer, more pronounced, one more reminder to focus on this hunt and complete the mission. His eyes squinted in the hazy mist, searching out the signs, taking in the lay of the land and mapping out his path up the mountain; determined to gain speed and increase the distance between himself and his dad. Damn, but this creature has the endurance of a bull charging through the forest, not showing any sign of letting up.

Remember that, Winchester, fear can make you stronger, as long as you don't let it control you, make you hesitate. Use it, use the adrenaline, use the panic. Control it, wield it like a weapon.

The throbbing of his wrist was now the only thought he could process, twisting to the front of his consciousness, demanding full attention. Goddamn it! He knew he had screwed up royally and was seriously hurt, but he hoped he could file it away in the back of his mind and just keep soldiering onward. No pain, no gain. He had waited almost a year for this opportunity and he was not going to let a stupid mistake and a broken wrist stop him. Regardless, he was going to finish this hunt. He had no other option, Dad expected it.

He heard gasping and realized he was forgetting to breathe. In his haste to conquer this creature, he was forgetting the fundamentals. Slow it down, dude. He stopped and pulled the water bottle from his backpack and took several long gulps as he treasured this time to rest his weary legs for just a moment. His thirst now sated, he hurriedly stowed the bottle and took off again up the mountainside, dodging the rocks and boulders and scampering up the narrow trail.

A wayward branch jumped out at him, scraping across his face as he breezed past a hollowed out shell of a tree. The brittle branch broke as it came into contact with his face, but not before creating a deep gash across his cheek. Damn it. Better keep Dad behind you or he might be tempted to halt this hunt. Might just figure to take it out himself and let his "little boy" go home to take care of his "owies". Like hell!

He buried whatever pains he felt along with his humiliation at being such a fucking wuss. He was a Winchester, for God's sake. Pain didn't stop them. Pain only fueled his determination, steeled his resolve, drove his body onward with a conviction that would shock the most formidable foe. His mind again focusing only on the prey and the battle before him. Suddenly a flock of birds flushed out of the brush up ahead on his right, signaling his prey was closer than he thought.

He kept up his pace, watching closely the slippery moss as he went, feet steady and sure now, no room for error. He rounded the last boulder and before him in the clearing the creature stood, resting after its run for life. It was frozen in time, ears alert listening for the sounds of impending doom, legs poised, ready to run at the first hint of danger.

He raised up his rifle, laid steady across his forearm, the pain of his injuries making his left wrist and hand pretty useless at this point. He'd just have to steady it against his forearm and hope he could get off his shot. Nothing like making it more difficult for yourself, Winchester. He held his breath as he centered his prey in the sight, his finger poised on the trigger. Breathe. Don't rush the shot. Squeeze the trigger. Make it count.

The creature turned its head and gazed into his eyes just as he pulled back the trigger. His shot rang deadly towards it and it bucked and squalled as the bullet ripped open its chest. It staggered and fell in a heap, but as he raced forward, he could see it still gasping, struggling, trying to rise up, yet falling back again to the ground. His aim was just slightly off target, deadly, but not instantly lethal. The heart not pierced but still beating, desperately trying to live, not yet knowing it would soon die.

Dean stopped and stared at the frightful plight of this creature, mesmerized and appalled at the lengths it was exerting to live. He raised up his weapon to fire again, to put it out of its misery and he hesitated.

"Dean, finish it," Dad commanded, appearing behind him.

"What?"

"Why are you waiting? Finish it."

Dean seemed lost in the moment, trapped in the realization that this life, however insignificant it had seemed before, was frantically trying to live, yet surely fading away and he was the cause of it. Suddenly the truth hit him hard, almost as devastating as the moment he realized his mom was dead, never to return, and he felt the convergence of it all: the pain and utter panic of this creature, the frailty of life, the cruelty of death, and he gasped from the weight of it.

Her brown eyes so large and expressive, so full of life, yet fading, peering into his soul, silently asking, Why? He was familiar with death, had been all his life, but never like this, never so up close and personal, never knowing that he was the bringer. He had trained his entire life for this moment and now it was upon him and he shuddered. Why was this all so unexpected and disturbing? I know what death is!

She was almost to her feet again, then stumbling, crashing back down on her legs each time she tried to rise. Her legs now bloody and torn, ripped apart on the jagged rocks and still she fought to live. Dean now saw a fragile being, not the dangerous prey he had set out to vanquish.

"Dean, what's wrong with you?" Dad sounded mad, but also concerned…baffled… unable to find a reason for his son's hesitation. "Watch out for the hooves, she's still dangerous. End it."

And then Dean heard the crack, the unmistakably chilling sound of her right front leg shattering against the rocks, the bone actually sticking out as she tried to regain her balance, as she tried to limp away to safety. Her heroic efforts in vain, because there was no escape. Death was waiting and her only hope was for it to claim her quickly, mercifully, before she was forced to endure more suffering.

Dean swallowed hard as he took on all her pain, actually feeling her frantic, panicked heartbeats beating in his own chest, her confusion and terror overwhelming his thoughts. The horror of the scene unfolding before him made him literally gasp before his own determination kicked in and he raised up his gun and again took steady aim, praying this shot would find the vital organ and end the misery he had caused.

Knowing there was no retreat from the inevitable he could only hope to end this, so he continued on the expected course of action, steadying the rifle against his aching forearm. He was the killer of this magnificent creature and the only path he could take now would be to end her suffering. One more shot rang out and the creature stilled, at last released from the torment he had place her in.

He dropped his rifle down to his side and steadied the barrel against his jeans, his hand shaking…his entire body subtly spasming, unable to still his tremors. He turned away from his dad's watchful eyes, hoping he could control the tears welling in his eyes, but failing miserably as the rain washed them down his face. Damn it.

"Dean? You all right?"

"Yeah, Dad. No worries." Slow and steady, calm it down…breathe…think, Winchester…no, stop thinking.

"Why did you wait?"

Only the slightest hesitation before he responded, "Just wanted to make sure it counted. Sorry I missed with the first shot. I'll practice more when we get back. It won't happen again, sir." Cold, detached voice, where did that come from?

"It happens. Dean, you just need to work on a quicker follow-up shot. You did good, son. Let's get her carved up."

"What?"

"No sense letting this meat go to waste. Trust me, you're gonna love the taste of venison."

It wasn't the blood and guts or hollowed out carcass that hung on in Dean's mind that night as he set the table for dinner. It was those deep brown expressive eyes that haunted him. It was seeing eyes so full of life, dim and then slowly extinguish, like a candle flickering in the breeze, and then vanishing, leaving a dark empty void where life had once thrived. It was knowing he was the cold dark wind that whipped through the forest and ended a life. It was feeling it…feeling the life sucked out of those eyes as the light went out.

This was what he'd trained his entire life for, his purpose, his mission. This was just a taste of what was to come and he had better steel himself to that cold hard fact. He needed to find a way to get past this and harden his heart 'cause he sure as hell couldn't stand to feel this way every time he killed something. He knew he couldn't take this over and over again. That in itself was enough to break him.

He was a hunter, like his father before him, and he had better get used to the end result. I mean, what the hell did you think would come from all this? You just need to make sure the first shot does it from now on. It's got to be easier if they just fall and die. Doesn't it?

"Dean, mash the potatoes, will ya? The meat's almost done."

"Sure, Dad."

"Wow, Dean, tell me about the hunt. I knew you'd do it."

Sammy looked at him with such wonder, such innocence.

You really don't understand, do ya, Sammy? Why should you? I mean, I didn't understand. I never expected…

"Boys, you are in for a real treat. This is gonna be some of the tastiest meat you've ever had."

Dean had struggled to help his dad with the carving of the carcass in the forest while hiding his injured wrist. The only thing that saved him was the fact he was so inexperienced and Dad was in a hurry to finish the job and get them off the mountain before the weather turned nasty again. The older Winchester methodically sliced up the prime sections of meat and handed the pieces to his son who managed to just lift and haul the bundles with his right hand. Amazingly, he never noticed his son was injured. John had a great capacity to see what he wanted to see sometimes, particularly concerning his sons.

Mashing the potatoes took some maneuvering, but Dean was pretty adept with just one hand. He was grateful that at least his primary appendage still functioned, even though he was somewhat ambidextrous, a handy quality for a hunter. He simply cradled the bowl against his chest and mashed one-handed. The end result was hardly the smooth, delicious mashed potatoes he remembered his mom delivering to the dinner table, but none of their food ever resembled the home cooking of Mom, and to be honest, he liked it that way.

He treasured the memories of Mom's down home cooking and fresh baked treats and thought they were best left there in his memory, filed away with vague glimpses of other happy times; locked away only to be brought out when desperation demanded some semblance of a happy family life, some remnant to hold onto when times seemed too crazy to endure.

Food now was just sustenance, nutrients to fuel the body. It was rare for the Winchesters to even sit down together for a meal, more often than not grabbing something on the run, or Dean feeding Sammy while Dad was God knows where, doing God knows what. Shared meals were no longer the happy family gatherings dinnertime once was. There was always something, rather someone, missing from the table.

"Okay, boys, dig in." John presented a platter of delectable venison fillets, expertly broiled to perfection like only a true chef would prepare. The one thing Dad knew how to prepare was steak. A man's food, a warrior's fuel.

On more than one occasion John had been tempted to hunt down a few PETA protesters. "Who the hell are they to tell me to watch out for the innocent little animals? They're cows for Christ's sake! They should be concerned with the real evil that's out there…like the creatures that eat people!"

Dean just sat and looked at his steak, the smell that normally would have been enticing only causing his stomach to rumble and not in a good way. He stared at his knife, wondering how in the world he was even going to cut up the darn thing without Dad noticing the plain fact screaming out in front of him, "Hello, did you happen to notice your son is injured? Ahem, Father of the Year, anyone home?"

Just then the rumbling of his stomach took all precedence and he raced from the table straight to the bathroom, finding its porcelain receptacle just in time. He heaved out the contents of his lunch and sat gasping on the floor. He reached over and flushed away the disgusting residue and sat back down, his eyes watering from the aftereffects and something else…?

No more thoughts about this, it was settled. He was a hunter. Hunters kill. End of story. Right?

Strong hands massaged circles down his back, gently kneading his shoulders; tender words uttered in a raspy, low voice broke through the stillness.

"Dean, you all right, dude?"

"Yeah, Dad, must be the flu or somethin'. Sorry, I don't think I'm up to eating tonight."

"The flu, huh?"

"Yeah, I kinda felt it back on the mountain, you know. Just the beginning, I think it's taking hold now."

John placed his huge hand on his son's forehead, gently brushing back his short blond hair that was plastered with sweat against his brow.

"No fever."

He then placed the back of his hand against Dean's cheek, just a gentle, soothing touch, like he knew Mary used to give her son when he was still a child and coming down with the chicken pox or measles, or just because. John checked the butterfly bandages closing the wound on his cheek; he had done his best to try and minimize any scarring. His son was going to be a real looker, scars or not, but even John wanted to preserve as much of his soft, flawless skin as possible.

Dean gazed into his dad's concerned eyes. "No? Just a queasy stomach I guess. Maybe it was something I ate."

"Well, then, maybe you should head to bed. Get some rest; it's been a long day. How about I make you some chicken broth? How's that sound?"

"Great, Dad. Sorry about the meal. I'll do the dishes in the morning, all right?"

"Don't worry about it, Dean. Just go to bed. I'll bring you some broth as soon as it's ready."

John gently brushed his fingers through the hair on the back of Dean's head, his hand resting against his son's neck for just a moment. Dean sighed; it felt good just to have that fleeting contact, just a moment to feel his dad's love. He knew his dad loved him; it was just nice to feel it sometimes. John helped him to his feet and he slowly walked to his bed.

He stripped out of his jeans, kicking them to the floor and crawled into bed wearing only his underwear and t-shirt. His left knee throbbed as he knelt on the mattress and for the first time he focused attention on that. It was swollen and turning an interesting array of colors: red, yellow, purple and the obligatory black. Just another reminder of his first kill, a minor injury to momentarily divert his mind from his true pain: the nagging doubt that he was somehow lacking, somehow deficient, unworthy.

The memory of that Shtriga attack again so fresh in his consciousness: his hesitation, his paralyzing fear, his dad's overwhelming disappointment in him. The long, desperate silences where Dad couldn't even bear to look at him and when he did…when he finally did… Dean couldn't bear to see the look he had for his son, how he looked at him differently. They had never spoken about it, not once, but it was always in the room, a heavy burden on Dean's shoulders, so for almost a year now he had anxiously awaited his chance to erase that night and make Dad proud again. And this is the end result?

The queasiness of his stomach had settled and he knew he was hardly suffering from the flu. Still, a good night's rest couldn't hurt and he didn't want to risk giving away his pathetic state of mind. Everything will look better in the morning. It'll make sense then, you're just tired and not thinking clearly. A good night's rest will fix everything.

All his efforts to impress Dad had finally succeeded and he had completed his mission, no sense botching the follow-up. He just needed to get his mind straight and reconcile himself to the truth; the harsh, unyielding truth of what was expected and somehow he knew he would find a way to do his duty. He always did. He had buried enough pain previously, he was sure there had to be a corner somewhere left to bury one more hurt, one more regret, one more bitter memory.

He sunk into his bed and pulled the covers up all around him, tightly wrapped around him like a cocoon, trying to find a safe place where he could escape for just a while. He stared at the ceiling trying to make his mind focus on something else, anything else; but nothing else seemed more real than those deep brown eyes, fixed in his memory, staring back at him, asking, Why?

TBC

Reviews and comments would be lovely if you are so inclined. Thanks again, B.J.