"Albatross"

"Epilogue: The Aftermath"

John settled into the driver's seat and followed Caleb's 1985 cherry Ford Thunderbird. Every few minutes, he glanced in the rearview mirror to see Dean slumped in the back with his arm around his kid brother. Sammy was flush against his brother's side, his face buried into the folds of his hoodie.

It seemed like it had taken forever to get to Blue Earth, Minnesota. The exit could not have come any sooner. Dean and Sam were oddly silent in the back of the car. Dean sat up straight, never complaining about the pain in his side, or talking about the hunt that had gone bad. Sammy lay in various positions across the bench seat of the Impala with his head resting somewhere on his big brother. Idly, Dean twirled a piece of Sam's long brown curls in his fingers.

Pulling into the pastor's ranch house, they were greeted by a 1986 red Cherokee. Cutting the engine, he watched Irene Lyons exit the jeep with her ten-year-old daughter in tow. Immediately, he knew this was not a social call.

Exiting the Impala, John opened the back door and hauled Sam's small frame out. Once his youngest was on his feet, John reached in to help Dean out. The kid shrugged off the help and ambled out of the car slowly on his own.

"Dean!" Kenley Lyons yelled and burst into a sprint towards the Winchesters. "Sammy!"

"Kenley, be careful!" shouted Irene. "Dean's hurt!"

The girl faltered in her stride, her head cocking to the side at seeing Dean gingerly holding his side. She continued towards the Winchesters at a slower pace. She stopped short of Dean and looked him up or down to inspect the damage. Sam leaned into the older girl who immediately wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Kenley Lyons was the closet thing they had to an actual friend.

"What happened?" she asked.

"I got shot," replied Dean with a smirk. "I think I'm officially a badass hunter."

Kenley merely rolled her eyes and glanced down at Sammy who was unnaturally quiet through the exchange. Catching Dean's gaze, she nodded her head towards the six-year-old. Dean merely shrugged his shoulders in response.

"Kenley, Dean, Sammy, why don't you three come inside with me," Pastor Jim called for the three. "I believe I may have some cookies in the kitchen."

"Oreos?" piped Sammy as he craned his neck to look at the pastor.

"I believe I may actually have some left over from poker night a few weeks ago," he replied with a smile.

Sammy broke away from Kenley's half embrace and scampered towards the pastor. Kenley and Dean were not far behind. Once they disappeared into the ranch house, Irene turned her attention to the two hunters in front of her.

"Does somebody want to explain to me why I'm getting phone calls asking why I was poking around about the Pennsylvania hunt? I've gotten nearly half a dozen calls from contacts asking me who killed Jacob Everett and Kevin Rhodes," Irene hissed frantically. "If I had known you were going to kill them, I never would have found them for you!"

"It was an accident," replied John. "We didn't go in there with the intent to kill."

He glanced over at Caleb who looked bone-deep in fatigue with deep circles under his eyes that looked like bruises in the bright sunlight. The younger hunter didn't say a word. Instead, he stood very still as though he was still trying to wrap his mind around everything that had happened. John knew the kid would never be the same again. In a matter of months, Caleb would become a hardened hunter.

"You did kill them though! You put your family in danger. You put my family in danger!" Irene took a deep breath. "They have buddies looking for who did this. They have the first piece of the puzzle. I went looking for information!"

"What did you say to these hunters you called?" John asked evenly.

"I just asked if they were in Pennsylvania or knew anybody who was."

"Okay, so the answer is yes. What did you say then?"

Irene put a hand over her mouth, closing her eyes as though trying to remember what she said word for word. John stood there patiently and tried to be as calm as possible. Caleb was silently freaking out and Irene was openly showing her fears. Someone had to be the rational one.

"I asked where until I got the answer I needed."

"Did you tell anyone why?"

"No, I just said I needed to find someone in the area for something. I was vague."

"Okay, if anyone asks, say you were looking for someone in the area – a hunter friend who had gone missing. Say you wanted someone in the area to see if they could find them. They'll think whatever got your friend got their friend too," reasoned John.

"I don't know how you could do this to us," Irene whispered with tears in her eyes. "You put us all at risk. I'm starting to think Bobby was right about you."

"It wasn't John," Caleb spoke softly. "I shot one of the guys. John shot the other one to protect me."

John glanced over at his friend. Caleb was staring at Irene, an apologetic look plastered across his dark features. Irene's eyes soften slightly at the new information but didn't say anything.

"The one guy and John got in a fight. He was losing and instead of jumping the guy from behind like I should have to knock him out, I shot him. The other one had to die too or else…" Caleb sighed. "I put everyone at risk. We're all in danger, because I pulled the first trigger."

"How could you be so reckless?" asked Irene.

"He was a big guy," John jumped to Caleb's defense. "He had a good 80 pounds on me and a good 100 pounds on Caleb. He clipped me first, right in the jaw. I couldn't recover fast enough in the fight and the guy would have pounded me into the ground. I'm not condoning what happened there that night, but Caleb and I could have died. These guys were big, and they knew how to throw a powerful right hook. It was us or them."

Irene just nodded as though she were trying to convince herself that there was absolutely no other option. The three stood in the sunlight silently until Irene turned and walked into the house. John closed the space between him and Caleb. Clamping a hand down on his shoulder, he gave the kid a tight squeeze before entering the house as well. He knew that the conversation wasn't over. They needed to talk to Jim and figure out a course of action. He would know what to do to calm everything over.

First, he wanted to check in on his boys. Jim said he gave Dean his pain medication and sent the pair into the spare bedroom for some sleep. While Sam slept like a baby in the car, Dean failed to find a comfortable position to let sleep overcome him.

John opened the door to the bedroom door to see Dean lying on the bed with Sammy curled up next to him. The kid was being careful where he put his arm, conscious of where the surgery took place. Stepping into the room, he snapped the door shut quietly behind him. It caught Sammy's attention.

"Hey, how you boys doin'?"

"Good. Dean said he was sleepy," commented Sammy.

Sliding onto the bed, John cuddled his youngest close to him to give Dean room to move if need be. Reaching out a hand, he wiped a limp lock off Dean's forehead. The kid looked at him with sleep-coated eyes.

"You feeling okay?"

"Just tired," Dean responded.

"Daddy, will you tell us a story?" asked Sam as he leaned into his father's chest. "Dean said he was too tired to tell a story."

"Sure, what kind of story do you wanna hear about?"

The kid merely shrugged his shoulders. Dean was more of the storyteller in the family. He spun tales to Sammy on a weekly basis. They were always new, adventurous stories. Sometimes, John would stand outside their door and listen to the tales spill off his tongue with ease.

"Well, there were these two little boys named Jonathan and Jude."

"Those are mine and Dean's middle names!" Sammy rang. "Double J's!"

"J-squared," drowsily Dean spoke up.

John chuckled and ran a hand through Sammy's fine hair. Glancing over at his oldest, he could immediately see the pain medication settling in. His eyes were heavy as his chest began to raise and fall evenly.

"Is your middle name a J name? Can we be the three J musk'teers?"

"Sadly, we can't. My middle name is Eric."

"What's Pastor Jim's middle name?"

"Uh… I dunno, Sammy."

"How 'bout Caleb?"

The story was long forgotten as Sammy investigated the middle names of everyone close to them. John couldn't help but smile. It felt so good to know that both of his boys were all right. Dean was out of the hospital and Sammy was back to his vibrant self.

"I think it's Nigel."

"What about Kenley?"

"Um… Morgan?"

"What's Irene's?"

"I dunno hers."

"Daddy, can I ask you a question? You gotta promise you won't get sad."

John furrowed his brow slightly but didn't comment on it. He could only guess the next question out of his mouth was going to be about Mary's middle name. He mentally prepared himself for several seconds before responding.

"I promise I won't get sad."

"What was Mommy's name and middle name?"

John's heart nearly broke in half at the question as he did not fully prepare himself for the innocent question. His youngest son did not even know his mother's first name. Swallowing a lump in his throat, he croaked out the two syllables, "Mary."

"What about her middle name?"

"Jacqueline."

"She's a J…" Sammy trailed off. "Too bad you aren't a J, Daddy."

"My first name is a J. Doesn't that count?"

Sam tapped a finger on his lips, a look of concentration appearing on his childish features. It took everything John had in him not to burst out laughing. The kid was taking the middle initial thing way too seriously.

"I guess so," he decided.

"You guess?" John asked with a soft chuckle. "You're a little shit, you know that, right?"

"Yeah, I know," he said with a wide grin.

"Do me a favor and watch out for your big brother. You're in charge. I'm gonna go talk to Pastor Jim."

John leaned down and kissed his youngest on the forehead. Slowly, he eased off the bed so he wouldn't disturb Dean. He was half way to the door when Sam called out to him in his whispering voice, which was actually louder than his normal voice. Walking back to the bed, he leaned down until he was face-to-face with Sammy.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm really glad that Dean's okay," he whispered as his fingers grabbed onto his father's unbuttoned flannel shirt. "I was really scared."

A lump formed in his throat as he stared down at the six year old. Jim always said that Sammy possessed an old soul, and John couldn't agree more with that sentiment. His youngest was a precocious child who seemed to know more than any child at that age should know. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He lived and breathed his big brother as though he were oxygen. Sammy wasn't Sammy unless he was with Dean. The kid would have been heartbroken without his big brother.

"It's okay to be scared," John replied in a thick voice, "but I want you to remember that I would never let anything happen to you or your brother."

"I know," he said softly as his grip tightened on his father's shirt. "There was a lotta blood."

"Is that what bothers you about what happened?"

His bottom lip slid in-between his baby teeth. Slowly, he nodded his head in the positive. John dropped down to his knees and gently tugged his youngest off the bed. Cradling him in a hug, he kissed Sammy tenderly on the mop of his unruly curls.

"Do you want to hear a story about your mom?"

Sam twisted his neck to look up at his father. They never talked about Mary. Whenever Sam wanted to know something about his mother, he always went to Dean, because he knew how much the topic upset his dad. The topic was a painful, gaping hole to John. He felt empty and depressed whenever he talked about her in the past tense. Except, in that moment, the very notion of Mary felt safe and secure. It felt welcomed in a way it had not been in years.

"Your mom loved angels," John said in a strangled voice. "She believed that angels were always watching over people. I think if angels exist, they would be our loved ones. Sometimes, I like to believe your mom's an angel watching out for us. So, I don't want you to be scared, Sammy, because I know your mom is watching out for you."

"Do you really think so, Daddy?"

"I really do."

After a quick peck on his son's cheek, John stood up, his back cracking loudly from fatigue and relief. Exiting the bedroom, he wandered into the kitchen to see Jim, Irene, and Caleb all waiting for him with steaming cups of coffee and pensive faces. There was a part of John that knew this was only the beginning of the ordeal.

Author's Notes: I hope you enjoyed the story! I do have a sequel planned for the story entitled "Revolver" which takes place about a month after the events in this story. It follows two separate hunts, the fallout of the two hunters deaths, and a lot of hurt John. It is definitely a darker story and had more adventure. Before the sequel appears, however, I expect A LOT of reviews for this story! So many of added this story to their story alert and their favorite story lists and each chapter gets a lot of hits. However, there's a lack of reviews, so this is your last chance to give me feedback. Each chapter takes weeks of planning and days of writing. The least you could do is take a minute or two and write a review. As an incentive to review, if you ask for a preview of the follow up story in your review and you are logged into your account, I will send you a little excerpt from "Revolver" to tide you over until it is released. :) Thanks for reading everyone!