Title – Albratross

Summary – The first time Dean Winchester was shot was when he was ten years old.

Part of The Dark Horse series

"God save thee, ancient mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!-

Why look'st thou so? - With my crossbow

I shot the albatross."

- "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


"Chapter One: We All Fall Down"

Western Pennsylvania

November 24, 1989

The backdoor to the cabin was unlocked, which enabled John to conclude that these hunters were amateurs and idiots. Stepping into the little kitchenette, he pulled out a small flashlight from his leather jacket pocket. Caleb Lyons entered in behind him and decided to take the lead in the investigation. Honestly, John was glad he didn't have to use kid gloves with Caleb at the moment. He had been running on empty for the past week.

They entered one of the bedrooms. It looked ordinary enough. The bed was unmade, dirty clothes were strewn around the room. Walking to the closet, John opened it to see a bunch of plaid shirts hanging up. Pushing the clothes aside, there was a cabinet door in the very back of the closet. Opening it, he was faced with an arsenal of weapons.

"Caleb, over here," barked John harsher than he intended to.

The twenty-five year old ambled over to the closet and let out a whistle at all of the guns and various other weapons. Side-stepping John, he entered the closet and reached a hand forward to grab a shotgun. He took out one of the bullets and held it in his hand. John shined the light on it and the two inspected the bullet.

"I'd say it looks pretty damn similar," commented Caleb.

"I need more than pretty damn, Caleb," John snapped.

The younger hunter glanced up at and shook his head. John felt like punching the kid in the face but refrained himself from doing so. He knew any minute that some smartass remark was going to slip off his tongue like molasses.

"Whoa, Johnny, untwist your panties okay? I can't make a positive ID without comparing the bullets."

"I know that, but I want to be more than pretty sure about this."

"Look, the bullet they pried out of Dean was from this brand of shotgun. I can tell you that for sure. If it's the exact same gun… your guess is as good as mine."

There was a roar of an engine. John and Caleb froze. Setting the shotgun down on the ground, they backed out of the closet and closed it as silently as they could. John motioned for Caleb to hide behind the bedroom door. He backed up slowly, grabbing his gun from between the waistband of his jeans and the small of his back. A car door slammed shut and footfalls sounded on the porch.

John inched towards the nearest wall out of sight of the door. He hung in the shadows, his back flush with the wall. The door to the cabin opened and he held his breath. Footfalls sounded on the hardwood floor and grew closer. A shadow appeared in front of the door. The door opened further and the light was flicked on. John came face-to-face with the owner of the cabin.

"Who the fuck are you?"

The man marched forward, closing the space between them. John only hoped that Caleb had enough sense to stay out of sight. He kicked off the wall and squared his shoulders ready to fight. Before he could register what happened, the guy's fist connected with his jaw in an uppercut.

Western Pennsylvania

Eight Days Previous

John Winchester had little faith in humanity. After the murder of his wife and the betrayal of his hunting mentor Daniel Elkins, John was convinced that there was little good in the world. In fact, the only good he saw was in the form of children. Dean and Sammy were the light of his normally dark life. They kept him sane. They kept him alive. Without them, John was sure he would have pointed a gun at his temple and pulled the trigger after watching Mary burst into flames.

Hunting quickly consumed John's life. There was not enough knowledge about supernatural creatures in the world to quench his thirst. Only after he found out what killed his wife and offed it himself would he find peace. He thought that if he could find the damn thing that ruined the Winchesters' lives, he could go back to being a normal dad who coached T-ball and took his sons to ball games. In the pit of his stomach, he knew that was far from the truth no matter how much he tried to deny it. Hunting became his life. Sometimes, he forgot that hunting wasn't everything.

Dean had been itching to go on a hunt with his father since he was five years old. Ever since he found out that there were creatures that went bump in the night, he was sold on the idea of hunting. He learned to shoot a gun at the age of six. He learned how to properly salt and burn a corpse by the age of seven. He even kept a little journal with him, writing small notes on everything supernatural that he learned from his father.

They were in Pennsylvania staying in some backwoods cabin in June. In the dead of night, people were winding up dead. For some reason, the thing only struck at night, which led John to believe it was some sort of supernatural creature. The bodies that were found were consistent with some sort of animal attack. The claw marks in the victims could not accurately be connected to any one animal.

John was cleaning his shotgun and getting bullets ready for some recon during the day. He was hoping he could find some tracks of the creature to get a better idea what he was hunting. It'd be safe in the daylight to do this, perhaps that's why he caved when his eldest son pleaded to go with him.

"I want to be a hunter, Dad," the ten-year-old explained in an unnaturally mature voice as he sat across from his father at the kitchen table.

"Listen, Dude," the nickname that Dean had started calling everybody rolled off his tongue without him even knowing it, "I think that's great, but you're ten years old."

"I can do this. I want to do this."

Setting down the shotgun, John looked up at Dean. The kid's eyes were as wide as saucers, pleading with him to let him tag along. Sometimes, when John looked at Dean, all he could see was Mary. They had the same green eyes, the same array of freckles sprinkled across their nose and cheeks, the same coloring, the same facial expressions. When that happened, he always let Dean do what he wanted to. It was impossible to say no to the kid when he looked like his dead mother.

"The thing only attacks at night," explained John. "You can do recon with me today in the daylight. You're staying with Sammy tonight though."

A smirk worked its way onto Dean's face, and John knew that recon was sufficient enough to quench the kid's thirst for hunting in that moment. Although the glory of recon would only last for a few months before Dean wanted more. That's when the real trouble would happen.

John handed his eldest a shotgun and the kid stuffed extra bullets in his jacket pocket just in case. If there was a motto that John Winchester lived by it was always be prepared. Even though he knew the creature wouldn't be in the woods, he didn't want to take the slim chance that the thing migrated into daytime feedings.

Sammy was lounging on the couch in the living room watching television. He sniffed and rubbed the sleeve of his red hoodie under his nose. The kid had been getting over a nasty cold that had left him lackluster and quiet. That was a rarity in the Winchester household. Sammy was usually bouncing off the walls and talking a mile a minute.

John crouched down beside the couch and gently touched the kid's forehead. The kid didn't bother to protest. He was cool to the touch. John wanted to ensure the kid no longer had the low-grade fever of 100.

"Hey, Sammy, how you feeling?"

"Good," he replied as his gaze never left the television screen. Reaching for the remote, John turned off the TV. "Daddy!"

"Dean and I are going to go for a walk in the woods," John said in his usual rumble. "You are not to leave this couch, do you understand me? Just lie down and watch TV. Wait for your brother and me to get back before you move, okay? Don't answer the phone, don't answer the door."

"'Kay," he replied in a small voice.

John leaned in and gave Sam a kiss on the temple before handing him back the remote. Standing up, he made his way over to Dean who was ready to get out into the woods. He was practically bouncing in excitement. John laughed and picked up his own gun and shrugged on his jacket.

They walked in the woods side by side. Dean had the direct order to not leave his father's side. He followed diligently as his eyes wondered around the woods for signs of tracks or anything out of place.

They were in the woods for nearly a half hour without finding tracks or anything. John suggested they start back, and Dean reluctantly agreed. Fifteen minutes into their way back to the cabin, there was a noise behind them causing John to falter in his step. He turned around and glanced in the woods. Dean turned around also, his gun rising into the crook of his arm to take a shot if necessary.

There was a loud bang that resounded throughout the wooded area. John looked frantically to his right only to see that Dean was no longer standing next to him. Casting his eyes down, he saw Dean lying on the hard earth with a puddle of crimson surrounding him. He was instantly pale, his right hand clenching his left side. Crimson seeped through his white fingers.

John dropped down to his knees next to his son. Instantly, he applied pressure to the gunshot wound. Silent tears poured down the ten-year-old's speckled cheeks. His mouth was twisted in agony and his eyes were squinted shut. His chest rose and fell in rapid movement, loud gasps of air escaping his mouth.

"Dean, can you hear me? You with me?"

Tears clouded John's vision as he stared at his son's ghastly white face. His usually bright green eyes were quickly turning a dull, lackluster color. His lips were so white that they blended into his skin.

Blood coated John's shaking hand. He had to get Dean to a hospital and fast. Surgery was the only way he would survive. Cradling his son in his arms, the guns long forgotten, he ran towards the cabin as quickly as he could. Dean's body was limp in his arms, his head lolling in the crook of his elbow.

John kicked the door down to the cabin. He screamed for Sammy who came running into the kitchen. His eyes grew wide at the sight of his unconscious brother and all of the blood. John yelled at Sam to grab his keys, the afghan off the back of the couch, and get to the car.

Sam fumbled with the lock on the Impala, his hands shaking as John stood behind him with Dean cradled in his arms. Once the door was open, Sam scrambled into the back. Gently, John laid Dean down next to his brother. The shotgun shells fell out of his pocket and onto the floor. John ordered Sam to apply pressure on the wound and not let go.

"Dean?" gasped Sammy as tears rolled down his face. "Daddy, Dean won't answer!"

John didn't reply. Instead, he wrapped the afghan around Dean and Sammy before jumping into the front seat. Turning the engine over, he raced to the hospital. All the way to the hospital, he listened to Sammy's sobs and his heart beating fast within his chest. Never before had the possibility of losing one of his sons become so real.

Curses kept flooding his mind. How could he let Dean go out in the woods with him? It was irresponsible and just plain stupid. If anything happened to Dean, John would not survive the loss. Losing Mary had been hard enough. To lose Dean? It would be unbearable. It would take away what little will he had left to live.

The drive to the hospital seemed to take forever. When he finally arrived, he pulled the Impala up to the door of the emergency room and quickly gathered Dean up in his arms. He raced into the hospital, hoping that Sammy was right behind him.

"I need help! My son's been shot!" he screamed.

Two doctors and three nurses came rushing over to John. A nurse grabbed a gurney on her way towards them. John laid his unconscious son gently down. The doctors started talking rapidly and the word surgery rolled off the one doctor's tongue. John tried to follow them but the one nurse stopped him from going any further.

"I'm sorry, Sir, you can't go any further," she said gently.

"Daddy!" Sammy sobbed as his hand clenched his tightly.

"We're going to do everything we can for your son. Is there anything we should know before he goes into surgery? Any allergies or medical problems?"

"Uh… no. No, he's really healthy."

"Any allergies?"

"Not that I know of."

"Any family history we should be aware of?"

John blinked several times. He didn't know anything about Mary's side of the family, but he supposed they were healthy. He thought of his parents and relatives.

"Uh, his grandmother died of a stroke," he said as he thought of his own mother.

"Anything else?"

He tried to think of anything useful, but his mind drew a blank. His father was an alcoholic bum. His aunt had killed himself. Everyone else had died of old age or in an accident. They were a pretty lucky family.

"No, nothing."

"Okay, Mister…"

"Winchester. John Winchester. My son's name is Dean."

"Mister Winchester, go sit down. I'm going to go let the surgeons know what you just told me. I'll come out with updates as often as I can, okay?"

The nurse disappeared behind a pair of doors. Crouching down, John pulled his youngest into a bone-crushing hug. He buried his face into his mop of unruly brown curls and closed his eyes. Pulling out of the embrace, he hauled his youngest into his arms and carried him over to the nurses' station. Sitting him on the ledge of the desk, he asked for a phone.

Sammy's hands gripped his leather jacket, his head resting against his father's chest. John dialed the familiar Minnesota based number. It rang three times before the pastor picked up.

"Jim, it's John. Dean's been shot."

"What? Dean's been shot? How did that happen?"

John glanced at the nurses briefly before turning his attention back to Sammy. He ran his free hand through the child's fine hair and lazily rested a cheek against his head. He took a deep breath and found comfort in the smell of the baby shampoo that Dean insisted that they still buy because Sammy was the baby in the family. This only caused the small boy to huff and whine, exclaiming that he's six and six year olds were big boys.

"We were out in the woods," he said slowly. "I think a hunter was out there."

"What makes you say there's another player in town? Why would a hunter shoot Dean?"

"I don't know, Jim, alright, but that's what I'm thinking. Is there anyway to find out?"

"If there are other hunters in town? I'm sure with some digging you could probably figure it out. I don't really have the connections to do that. Irene, Caleb's sister-in-law, knows practically everyone in the hunting community. If anyone can find out, she can."

John had met Irene Lyons a handful of times over the past five years. Her husband had been possessed by a demon and ridden so hard that he didn't survive the exorcism. While Caleb and his father broke out into the hunting world, Irene took a more subtle approach because she had a one-year-old baby to think about. She did a lot of research for hunters. The fact that her day job was a pharmaceutical sales rep made her popular among the hunting community. She easily supplied them with valuable drugs that they couldn't get otherwise.

"Thanks, Jim."

"I'm going to get on the next plane out there. I'll fly into Pittsburgh and drive the rest of the way. It's about an hour outside of the city, correct?"

"Yeah, Jim… thank you. Really, you have no idea what your friendship means to me."

"Likewise, John. How is Sammy doing?"

"He's sitting right here. Sammy, you wanna say hi to Pastor Jim?"

He handed the phone to his youngest child who lifted his head off his father's chest. Slowly, he put it to his ear and piped a very soft, "Hi." John glanced towards the doors where they took Dean to see if anyone was coming out with an update. He knew it couldn't have been more than ten minutes, but it felt like hours had passed. Glancing back at his son, he motioned with his hand to indicate he wanted the phone back.

"Daddy wants to talk to you. Bye, Pastor Jim."

"Hey, question real quick for you. Caleb's hunting with Jefferson right now, isn't he?"

"Yes, they are in Ohio hunting a werewolf."

"Do you happen to have their contact info?"

"Caleb called last night, so I have the motel number. Why are you asking?"

John searched for a pen at the nurses' station. He spotted one by the phone and snatched it. Clicking it, he glanced around for a piece of paper but failed to find any. Instead, he tested the pen out of his fingertip.

"I thought he mentioned he was going to be in Ohio. I need to call him and ask for a favor. Do you have the number?"

Holding the phone between his ear and his shoulder, he jotted the numbers down on his palm. He thanked the pastor and told him he'd see him soon before hanging up. He dialed the number on his palm and waited as it rang several times before a male voice picked up.

"Uh, Jefferson?"

"Who wants to know?"

"It's John Winchester. I'm looking for Caleb."

"Hold on. Hey, kid, Winchester is on the phone for you!"

There was shuffling on the other end of the line. John clenched the phone tightly in his fist. With his free hand, he brushed a lock of hair out of Sammy's eyes. The kid looked miserable. His nose was red and eyes puffy from crying. His t-shirt and hands were covered in dried blood.

"Hello?" Caleb answered hesitantly.

"It's John. Jim told me where you were staying. You're in Ohio?"

"Yeah, why? You wanna take me out on a date, Johnny? Sorry, but I don't swing that way."

"Can you shut your pie hole for a few minutes?" snapped John. "I'm in Pennsylvania and Dean's been shot."

"How the hell did Dean get shot?"

Looking around at the nurses' station, he noticed that all of the nurses had dispensed from the are. One lingered towards the back of the station filing folders into cabinets. She looked back every now and then to see if anyone needed help.

"I let him do some recon with me. This thing only attacks at night, I thought he was safe to come with me during the day. I don't think we were the only hunters there though. I think a hunter shot my son," he said in a low voice.

"Fuck, Johnny, did you get a good look at him?"

"No, I didn't see the bastard. I hear your sister-in-law can find out who all the players are in a fifty mile radius."

"Yeah, Irene has a lot of hunting contacts, because they love to hit her up for drugs. She needs dossiers on all of the hunters she deals with to ensure she doesn't give them something they can't have."

"Can she do this without my name being brought up?"

"I'm going to have to tell her the truth of what happened or else she won't do it. She likes Dean a lot, probably because he's the same age as Kenley."

Kenley was Caleb's niece. Her mother brought her to all of Pastor Jim's church picnics. Whenever Caleb was free, he would babysit her. Ever since her father died, Caleb tried to be a surrogate dad to the girl. Sammy and Dean had met Kenley countless amounts of times. She had taken an unusually liking to Dean. Irene and Jim thought they were the cutest kid couple.

"Yeah, I remember. They get along great."

"I'll tell her to keep the reason why she wants to know on the DL. She'll think of something to say."

"Thank her for me."

"I will. Hey, Johnny, I'm hunting with Jefferson right now. I'm going to tell him I need to bow out of this hunt. I can be at the hospital by tonight."

"You know, I actually needed your help so I was going to ask if you could get out of the hunt."

"What do you need?"

"We're staying at Jefferson's cabin, he can give you the address. In the woods behind the cabin, about a ten-minute walk in, there are two unregistered shotguns with Dean and mine prints on them. Grab them for me. Also, can you grab Sammy and me a change of clothes? We're covered in blood."

"Yeah, no biggie. I'll leave right away. Try to stall the cops are long as you can, gimme time to swipe the guns."

John looked around the waiting room of the emergency room. The cops had not arrived yet, and he thought he'd have another half hour of waiting. He could easily keep the guys on the case at the hospital for a while. He just needed Caleb to hurry up and get on the damn road.

"They're not even here yet, but I'll keep them as long as I can."

"See ya, Johnny."

The line went dead and he rested the phone back down on its cradle. Glancing over at his youngest, he watched as Sam sniffed and swiped his hoodie under his nose. His free hand gently held onto his father's old leather jacket.

"Excuse me, Mister Winchester?"

John turned around to see a nurse standing behind him with a tight smile on her face. His heart skipped a beat. If they were already updating him on Dean than that meant…

"Is that your car outside the ER?"

A wave of relief washed over him. A puff of air escaped his lips as he nodded his head in the positive. He racked a hand through his unruly hair.

"Can you move it? It's illegally parked. The ambulances park there."

"Yeah, sure, no problem."

Sliding his hands underneath Sammy's armpits, he hoisted the kid down from his perch on the nurses' station. Settling him on his feet, he grasped the boy's hand into his own as they made their way to the Impala.

Author's Notes – I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of the story! I'm going to try to keep it around a five or six chapter story. Please, leave a review and let me know what you think! Reviews help me write faster. :)