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Dean's Dog Days and Dogmares

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A tired-looking Dean is studying in the bunker and thinking about Sam while a variety of breeds of dog look on. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

 

"Your's are the qualities that men hold high: strength and pride and love and loyalty" – 'Rin Tin Tin'

 

In retrospect, it was stupid.  He couldn't even remember what they'd argued about. He thought it might have been shampoo. Was it shampoo?

Maybe conditioner?

Or whatever stupidly expensive, girly shit it is that Sam buys for his long locks.

It wasn't Dean's fault that he benefited from something that added a bit of body and shine to his hair. They were brothers; surely if they shared in adversity they could do the same with grooming products?

Anyway, Sam had stomped off in a snit, and it was only much later that Dean had realized his brother had actually left the bunker.

Dean had needed to calm down, so he worked his way methodically through their gun collection, each one meticulously disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. It was good focused, productive work that always reminded him of the few happy times of his childhood.

Dean glanced at his cell phone and swore when he realized he'd missed a notification from several hours ago. The afternoon had flown by and the lack of natural light in the bunker had given the impression that hardly any time had passed.

>I've identified a lead on the witch that I'm going to check out. I'll be back soon.

Typical Sam that it was written in full and properly punctuated. Although his brother should have known better; rushing off alone was never a good idea, no matter how prepared you might think you were. And in hunting it could so easily get you killed.

Sighing, he put aside his cleaning kit and got ready for a different kind of tidying up.

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

There'd been a recent spate of disappearances in town. Normally, that wouldn't have been enough on its own to draw the Winchesters' attention; it's a sad truth of life that hundreds of thousands of people go missing every year.

But never so many in one go and located in one small town. Plus, as Sam had so eloquently put it: "It's on our doorstep, dude."

Sam can't be gone.

Dean's been there and done that before. He won't allow it to happen again.

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

What did people do before GPS? Dean wondered, not for the first time.

He'd followed the trace on Sam's cell phone and it had brought him to an ugly box-like building on the outskirts of the industrial part of town. Closer inspection revealed the place was a veterinarian clinic.

Doesn't Sam have a thing for vets and injured animals? Dean thought, still a little bitter, despite the intervening years, about having been abandoned in Purgatory. He pushed the feeling down into the furthest reaches of his mind.

The GPS location range was too broad to tell him exactly where his brother was, but the fact it hadn't moved in the forty minutes it had taken him to drive here meant that the cell phone and his brother had most likely parted company.

It was with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he spotted the phone as he made his way across the car lot, luckily just noticing the glimmer of the low light on its casing. He bent to retrieve the phone, noticing with disquiet that the screen had been smashed. It wasn't sufficiently out of the way that he could imagine how Sam might have accidentally dropped it without noticing.

There were no other obvious signs of struggle, not that the near-unmarred layer of asphalt was particularly giving in terms of what might have happened. The vet clinic still seemed the most likely place to continue the search.

He paused for just the briefest of moments to consider a story, but it was Sam, he couldn't concentrate with the itch under his skin to just do something, anything, so in the end he decided to just wing it.

The interior of the basic stone building was overwhelming in terms of both scent and heat as he went in. Two pairs of owners waited on a long wooden bench that ran the length of the left side of the room, one with a basket containing a wide-eyed kitten, the other a mournful-looking Labrador in a 'cone of shame'.

The receptionist who appeared behind the counter seemed surprised by his lack of an accompanying animal. She was young and blonde and pretty.

Pretty much like Dean-catnip, he chuckled to himself. See what I did there?

"Yes?" She managed to make it sound more like 'No' and a statement.

"Hi, I wonder if you could help me-" he started, reaching for his badge while trying to remember the name he'd used on it.

"We're closing in five," she interrupted with a sour, pursed-lip expression as if she'd been sucking on a lemon for the last half hour.

Dean almost shivered from the force of the frosty response. He'd been ready to unleash his usual devastating charm offensive and he was taken aback by the uninterested tone and the loud gum chewing.

"Ugh," he stammered incoherently, while casting a querying glance at the waiting couples.

The receptionist rolled her eyes on noticing the objects of his gaze. "We're overrunning," she said with an insincere smile. "As usual," she muttered under her breath.

Undaunted, Dean decided to plough on. "Yeah, well I'm looking for-"

"Hey, Doctor Doolittle. You've got an adoptee," she hollered out the back, without any consideration for Dean's hearing.

A tall, well-built man in surgical scrubs poked his head around the consulting room door and grinned on seeing Dean. Dean judged him a little younger and shorter than Sam; the thought of his missing brother twisting at his stomach.

The receptionist collected her coat and bag. "Right, I'm off," she declared. Both men watched as she stomped across the room, slamming the door shut behind her.

"Sorry, about her, she's new," apologized the veterinarian.

Dean shrugged. "I'm sure she'll be old if she carries on like that," he added dryly.

The vet laughed. "If only! Unfortunately the last receptionist left suddenly and we've been inundated with strays-"

"Interesting," commented Dean, more than convinced there was a connection to the case. "Doctor... er, Evans," he continued, reading the vet's name tag.

The vet waved aside the title. "Please, call me Anton. Lilith said you were looking to adopt?"

Dean almost choked on discovering the name of the receptionist.

Anton carried on, without seeming to notice Dean's reaction. "We've had an unprecedented number of strays--the local rescue center can't take anymore--so we're looking for homes or we've been told we're gonna start having to destroy healthy dogs."

"That's terrible," said Dean.

Anton nodded his agreement. "Animals I understand; it's people I don't get," he sighed.

That was something that Dean could sympathize with.  "I agree wholeheartedly."

"Good man!" said Anton, delightedly slapping Dean on the shoulder. "I've got a couple more patients to see, but then I can show you back to the cages. I'm sure one of our 'inmates' will be ideal for you."

"What? No, wait-" started Dean, but the vet had already disappeared back to his examining room with the cone-wearing Labrador and its owners.

"Wait..." Dean repeated to himself as he was struck by a sudden thought about the case.

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

He and Sam had stumbled onto the job by sheer chance as was so often the case. They'd just happened to be in the right convenience store at the right time; in this instance it was the nearest place to the bunker for snacks.

Dean was browsing through the ample delights of the magazine section while, as usual, tuning out Sam's complaints about the shop's lack of more worldly stock.

The old timer owner was shooting the breeze with his bunch of cronies in between short periods of resting his jawbone by selling folks stuff.

"Oh, hi there, Dean," said the old fellow, after apparently exhausting all other topics of conversation with his buddies and finally noticing he had potential customers.

Sam raised one eyebrow in surprise that they knew his brother.

"We missed you the other day, will you be joining the darts tournament Friday night?" asked the man, hopefully. "We're up against Desert Bluffs." He pulled a face to demonstrate the depths of his antipathy towards the old town rival.

Dean nodded vigorously. "Sure thing, Lou. We can't let them hold on to that trophy."

Lou nodded in return and sighed with relief. "Thank heavens for small mercies. My eyesight's not what it was and ol' Phil here can't play for shit."

"Hey," Phil started to object, until he stopped at the looks he was getting. "Yeah, yeah, so I'm not the best, but at least I turn up for each match," he muttered.

Dean wasn't going to get drawn in on the impact of hunting on his social life. Instead he made a quick tally of the guys present. "What happened to Sal?"

The expression on the men's faces was one of utter glee at simultaneous not only having been voluntarily asked for gossip, but also realizing that they knew something that Dean didn't.

"Strange thing," started Lou, for some reason looking left and right as if he didn't actually want everyone within earshot to be listening to him. "He was at home with his wife; she says he went outside to check out some noise in their backyard. Well, apparently he disappears out in the darkness then a couple of minutes later a big dog comes running at the house barking at her frantically." The storekeeper threw up his arms and paused for dramatic effect. "Luckily, the screen door was enough to keep it out until animal control could come along, but Sal was gone."

"Strange," agreed Dean.

"Yeah, that was a couple of days ago now and no one's seen him since."

"And the tournament's coming up..." interjected Larry, shrinking under the combined glare from everyone for his contribution.

"He and his wife weren't having any problems, were they?" wondered Dean, aloud.

"Nah, he's an old coot, as you know, and she's a right battle ax; so they're perfectly suited - inseparable."

"When he's not in the bar," muttered Larry.

"So what happened to the dog?" asked Sam.

Dean rolled his eyes and thought how typical it was of his brother to care more about some dumb fleabag than a person.

"I guess it ran off." Lou thought for a moment. "You know, I remember seeing some article in the local rag about packs of stray dogs running wild through the town, stealing food and disturbing the peace with all their barking."

He rummaged around the counter. "Yep, here it is." He flicked through the paper until he found the article then started paraphrasing. "It says that animal control is on the case but blaming budget cuts and lack of facilities. City Council is making an appeal for townsfolk to properly secure their pets."

There was a brief, tangential conversation about the decline of civilization occurring in line with bringing yard dogs inside, before he continued. "Anyone interested in adopting a stray is encouraged to come forward. Local vets are offering a reduced rate on chipping."

"Here, see for yourself," he said, as he passed the newspaper to Sam. He paused until Sam took it. "That'll be a dollar."

Sam rolled his eyes but paid up.

"So sad," commented Larry. "People abandoning their old animals to make room for these new-fangled pets. Remember when those turtles were all the rage? Straight down the sewer! Now it's all beardy lizards and corned snakes."

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Lilith, the receptionist, came crashing back into the clinic with four dogs in tow on makeshift leashes, breaking Dean from his reverie.

"Unbelievable!" she cried. "I can't even get out of this place."

She turned the full force of her glare on Dean who found himself cringing away despite himself.

"They were milling around the car lot. I couldn't  get my car past them," she complained. "Normally, I wouldn't have bothered stopping, but I just had the paintwork redone."

The dogs started to whine and bark. One of them tried to make a bid for escape but the receptionist was too quick for him.

"No, you don't!" she scolded. "I can't believe some people, not a single one of them has a collar. I bet they're not even neutered."

A couple of the dogs whined louder and more forcibly at her words and struggled harder to get away.

The inner clinic door opened to reveal the owners and the Labrador from earlier, the dog then growling at the new arrivals, the level of menace undaunted by the large plastic cone encircling its head.

"He's usually so friendly," apologized one of the owners, clearly embarrassed by her pet's uncharacteristic behavior.

Anton gave an unconcerned shrug. "Don't worry, stress does funny things to animals too. He'll soon settle down once he's home."

He looked over at Dean and Lilith. "So, who are these guys?"

"More strays!"

Anton wiped at his mouth in a nervous gesture. "We're completely full! There's no space for them."

"I guess they'll just have to be destroyed, then," said the receptionist, with a spiteful smile.

Anton looked at her aghast, as if seeing her for the first time.

Lilith's smile broadened to one of triumph as she turned on her heel and stormed out.

"I'm sorry, she's new," repeated Anton. "Her predecessor left very suddenly without working his notice." He frowned. "Without giving any notice," he added, more to himself.

He turned back to Dean, rubbing his face with one hand. "She's right on one point though. We will have to start destroying dogs; we've no room for them. So, if you're still looking to adopt then now's definitely the time to do it."

Dean thought about witches, the cell phone he'd found in the car lot, and large dogs barking behind screen doors that were maybe more frightened than frightening. He could only imagine how disorienting and terrifying being transformed into an animal could be.

"I'll take 'em," he snapped.

Anton smiled. "Which one?"

"All of them," Dean added. If he was right then he couldn't afford to be mistaken about which dog to take. He'd been sure at first that it was the Afghan, what with its height and all the long frou-frou hair, but he'd since decided that the golden retriever had a more intelligent look.

The Lassie-like dog was tugging on its leash to get a little nearer and Dean found himself stooping to greet it. "What type of dog is Lassie, here?" he asked.

Anton laughed. "I think, given the circumstances, 'Laddie' is probably a more appropriate name!"

Dean blushed and stopped stroking the animal.

"He's a rough collie; they're a very intelligent breed. And he certainly seems to like you," added Anton, as the dog pushed its head into Dean's side.

Dean couldn't resist another quick pat, even though he knew he'd probably end up covered in dog hair.

Intelligent, long hair, and ridiculously soulful eyes that seem to see right into what I'm thinking; it has to be Sam. He now felt a bit weird that he'd been patting and stroking his brother. It wasn't their usual type of rough housing.

"It'll be okay, Sam," said Dean softly to the dog. "I'll get you out of here." He reluctantly got to his feet and turned back to the vet.

"I've a big place, with plenty of room, a large field for them to run in nearby and no neighbors for miles to complain about barking."

He interrupted Anton's skeptical look before the vet could speak. "You said yourself you don't have the space for them."

Anton looked torn. "You're right that it's better than having perfectly healthy animals euthanized, but I'd feel happier if I could see where they were going so I'd know they were being cared for."

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Anton edged out of the car and turned to Dean with a suspicious look. "This isn't some kind of sex torture dungeon thing, is it?"

"What?" Dean spluttered, sure he must have misheard.

"Well, this place does look pretty sketchy and you do seem rather..."

Dean raised an eyebrow.

"Intense?" supplied Anton, a little hesitantly.

Dean clenched his jaw. I'm not... okay, maybe a little. "No, it's really not," he growled.

"O-kay," replied the vet, not looking especially convinced.

"Jeez, don't look too disappointed," Dean muttered as he led Anton inside.

"Very... retro," commented Anton, turning his nose up a little at the décor.

"But you can see there's plenty of room."

"Yeah, you'll still need to exercise them. I guess you're right about the lack of noise; no one can hear you... er... scream," said Anton, trailing off. He fidgeted nervously.

"Oh, for goodness sake," muttered Dean,

"Well, it's all the weird cult symbols on the wall!" cried Anton. "It is a bit like a serial killer's lair or some weird cult. I mean you live in what looks like a 50s bomb shelter."

Dean felt offended. "Look, it might not be up to Homes and Gardens standards, but it's got lots of great things going for it, like..." He wondered where he should start: greatest occult library in the New World, sweet firing range, geeky science lab, or the demon-impregnable dungeon? He paused as he realized there was little he could say that wouldn't actually prove Anton's point. "Er, great water pressure?" he finished lamely.

"Yeah, maybe I'll skip the tour," replied Anton, edging further away.

Dean sighed. "Look, I know it seems weird but I do just want to save the dogs, and I'd really appreciate your help."

Anton relaxed, seeming to respond to the sentiment. "If it's for the animals, then that's what I do," he smiled. "Okay, let's get this set up."

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

They'd made short work of converting the garage into a makeshift, rudimentary kennel.

"You know for someone who comes across as so anti-dog, you're doing a great thing by taking them in," enthused Anton, as he gratefully accepted Dean's offer of a beer.

"I'm just doing what's right," said Dean stiffly, always a little uncomfortable about being the object of praise.

He guessed Anton would recognize he wasn't exactly 'dog-people', but was he really anti-dog? It probably didn't help that he was scared of them.

No, scared is too strong a word, wary, yes that's better; it implies good hunter instincts.

Not that he'd even admit that out loud.

In the early, empty days following The Fire, their family had existed purely on auto pilot as they went through the motions of being alive. His dad had started running under the guise of chasing his demons, but it was an escape, albeit one into a Hell of his own making. Those early years were chaotic and confusing and so any attempt to try to impose some form of order was considered to be the best they could hope for.

Mornings had always started early, rations were frugal by necessity, and beds were made with a military precision that was matched only by the rigidity of their timetable. It was less about living and more just an existence - certainly not one to share with the luxury of a pet.

Their life back then had been a bland blur of interchangeably awful motel rooms and boarding houses, most of which laughably didn't accept animals due to hygiene and cleanliness reasons. Not to mention that travelling in the backseat of the car was bad enough with just Sam's weak bladder to contend with. It had still taken several mortifying accidents and screaming matches before John abandoned the predetermined rest stops approach.

He suppressed a guilty chuckle as he realized he still teased Sam with that now.

Later, as life ground on into his teen years, Dean became proficient at the five-finger discount and a bit of discrete breaking and entering, but it still scarcely kept his brother fed. There were never any table scraps that could have been given to a trash can on legs – a moniker that could equally be applied to Dean himself.

There were more than a few bumps along the way and the eventual, sad realization--given the benefit of hindsight--that it was his blind loyalty that always let him down. He supposed he had that in common with the dumb mutts too.

Like the time he made up some stupid tale about gambling their food money away, when really he hadn't wanted to admit that the pittance left for them had barely lasted for a couple days of a growing boy's hunger, let alone two weeks. That trip to the boys' home had been a salutary lesson; having obligations sucked big time. Why would he want to do that to some poor, dumb animal? He was plenty poor and dumb enough already for their broken family.

He shuffled uncomfortably, conscious that he'd been silent for too long without answering, but he didn't feel comfortable sharing his family history with a near-stranger. It was complicated. Their father had done the best he could, but maybe that still wasn't good enough. Not that Dean was under any illusion that under the same circumstances he could have done any better.

"We had a, uh, difficult childhood..." started Dean, dragging himself from the depths of his wool-gathering. "My dad kinda drifted for a couple of years."

Instead, he told Anton the story of the first boarding house they'd lived in and the landlord who'd had a vicious guard dog. Dean snorted when Anton asked what breed. Typical vet. He didn't know, only that it was big and fierce and mean; just like its owner. And weren't they always?

He'd been out in the back yard--he couldn't remember why--probably up to no good, when a dog came running out.

"Ah, don't tell me; you ran," prompted Anton, after Dean had fallen into a long silence.

Dean snorted, Guilty as charged.

"It's a common mistake; people get scared and they run, but the dog just thinks it's a great game and wants to chase along with you."

"I left Sam too." Dean shook his head, cheeks flushing. "I swore two things afterwards. That I'd never leave Sammy again, and I'd protect what was mine as fiercely as that dog." He reached over and patted the rough collie on the head. He wondered what he was proving, and to whom, but it still earned him an adoring look as only a dog could give.

Anton nodded, clearly touched. He frowned, his eyes narrowing. "Hey, I thought you said Sam was your partner."

"Hmm?" Dean looked up, still befuddled from the memories.

"You know, from the FBI?" Anton looked around at the faded 50s grandeur of their surroundings. "You know what, I'm not sure I want to know." He drained the last of his beer. "Catch you later, Dean; or whoever you are."

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Dean was woken the next morning by a cacophony of barks and whines. He tried sticking his head under the pillow but it didn't really help and besides, he couldn't help but wonder what the mutts were getting up to.

He shivered as he padded down the long corridor, thankful for the slippers that protected him from the cold bite of the tiled floor. He opened the door to the garage and struggled to cover his ears to block out the raucous barking. When he unbolted the gates, the dogs shot out like rockets, exploding outside in all directions to investigate the small fenced area.

As he left them to, uh, water the garden, he set to work preparing their food. He winced at the smell, but the dogs didn't seem to mind as they trotted back inside drawn by the sound and scents of food prep.

"Let's hope it tastes better than it looks, and smells..."

Thank Chuck, but it had been years since he'd been hungry enough to seriously consider eating dog food. He felt bad giving the slop to what were most likely transformed people, but he didn't want to risk the dangers of human food on their new canine physiognomy – and, if he was being honest, it was just easier.

If the dogs had any misgivings then it wasn't apparent from the frantic scrabbling to lick their bowls clean before gazing up at him with sad, but hopeful eyes. There were more than a few pitiable whines.

"That's your lot, mutts," said Dean. "What do you think this place is, a hotel?"

The golden retriever gave a hearty bark in response.

"Well, it ain't a five star one," declared Dean, closing the garage door and heading out on the trail of the witch.

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Dean missed Bobby every day, but never more so than when it came to doing research. Sam was no slouch in that area either, but the old man had a mind like a steel trap belied by his exterior and an encyclopedic knowledge of hunting lore that outweighed all of the Winchesters combined.

The day had been an abject failure as Dean had tried to retrace his brother's steps, but he was mystified by Sam's thought processes. Without knowing the nature of the breakthrough, it seemed impossible to figure out the next steps.

Still working on the assumption of a witch, he'd made no progress in tracking down whom or where that person was - let alone why they might be doing such a thing. He has no doubt that given Bobby or Sam, they'd be close to cracking the case already.

He at least had Anton putting his feelers out.  One thing was sure, there were a number of vets in the area and all were reporting a dramatic uptick in the number of stray dogs. None of whom had collars or chips and so were also at risk of being destroyed.

He shuddered and turned back to browse through the books.

After only a couple of minutes, too tired to think, Dean chose one at random and threw himself down on the couch, promising himself a moment's respite before trying to research transformation spells.

The rough collie--Sam--settled himself at Dean's feet and nosed at his legs. Dean moved over a little, which was just enough to let the dog jump up onto the couch beside him.

"Just this once, fur ball," warned Dean sternly, belying his words by wrapping one arm around the animal and absently stroking the fur behind its ears while he read.

"As much as I'm enjoying the lack of smart alec comments, I could really do with that big ol' brain of yours," he sighed, thumping the spell reference book with his other hand. The section he'd just skimmed had warned that transfiguration spells could prove permanent for more sensitive people, if not cancelled or reversed in time.

"I'm just not very good at this research thing," he sighed, choosing not to think about it.

Sam whined and looked up adoringly, licking at Dean's face.

"Dude, your breath seriously hasn't improved from being a dog, plus I know where that tongue's been." He considered for a moment and gave a filthy chuckle. "You lucky devil, you."

Sam snorted.

"Don't give me that look," Dean objected. "I'm the one who had to listen to you going at it for the last five minutes." He grinned. "As prissy as you are normally, even you're gross as a dog. And you forget I knew you as a teenager."

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

The dogs' barking was deafening and just got louder as Dean made his way through to the temporary kennel area he'd created with help from the friendly vet. It seemed like every couple of days Anton dropped off yet another dog. Although, Dean suspected it was any excuse for the man to get away from his formidable receptionist.

He attached a leash to each dog's collar.

"Sorry dude," he whispered as he attached Sam's lead. "It's as much for your protection," he added. There was definitely something dazed and confused about many of the dogs. Unsurprisingly Anton had noticed something off about the dogs' behavior

"I've never seen such an odd bunch of animals, it's like they're not sure how a pack works. I mean, you get the occasional dog that's been poorly socialized, but never on this scale," Anton has said.

The vet hadn't stayed long. When Dean had asked what was wrong, Anton had looked first torn, then apologetic in quick succession.

"It's just that when I notice that somewhere smells a bit... doggie, it's usually a sign it's really a problem."

Dean wasn't one for exercising for fun, but he decided that for this once it was actually really good to get some air. As he watched a clump of fur of tumbleweed proportions gently float its way along the corridor, he vowed that he'd be getting the vacuum cleaner out on his return.

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

"I'm asleep," moaned Dean.

The chorus of responses didn't seem to care, and if anything grew more shrill.

Still half-asleep, Dean stumbled around the room in a vain attempt to find his slippers. Sam always joked they were his 'dead guy' slippers, but Dean didn't care about the good natured teasing, as for him they symbolized something more, something deeper; half-formed, unarticulated ideas about tradition and home, more likely loosely-influenced by the TV of his childhood. If he'd been a smoker, he was sure that he'd have adopted a pipe too (and certainly there were more than enough of them in the bunker storerooms).

He sighed in defeat as the slippers remained undiscovered; he was certain he'd had them earlier. Thankfully his robe was still at the foot of his bed; in recent years he'd finally been able to relax enough to be able to get to sleep without being fully dressed, and the bunker could get chilly at night.

Wrapping the robe around himself, he stumbled along the long, cold corridors to the source of the barking. Despite his tiredness, he could tell something was off - the barking sounded too loud for a start.

There was something wrong with the door to the garage. As Dean's sleep-addled brain struggled to make sense of what he was seeing, he realized the dogs had managed to bash their way through it.

A couple of the large dogs gave him rebellious glares, but Dean decided he was too tired to care. After managing the late-night toilet break, Dean stumbled back to bed.

He was just drifting off when he heard the tapping of paw steps across the floor. There was a brief pause before a reassuring weight settled on the bed by his feet.

Dean lifted his head to lock eyes with Sam's mournful gaze. "Oh come on, dude, not on the bed," he groaned.

Sam's ears twitched back and he made a low grumbling whine, dropping his head to rest on Dean's legs.

Dean sighed. He'd not shared a bed with Sam for years, back in their early teens, but later than was generally considered socially acceptable.

"Y'know, you always were a bed hog, at least like this you're not gonna keep stealing the covers."

Dean raised an eyebrow at Sam's sudden sneeze in response. "Okay, okay, maybe you weren't that bad." He let his head drop back down to the pillow. He reached down and ruffled the fur behind Sam's neck in a quick, affectionate gesture.

"I was always cool with it; it never seemed weird and I slept better knowing you were safe and near." He sighed as he gazed up into the dark corners of the room. "To be honest, I kinda liked it too," he  added, blushing a little at the admission. It was funny how it was so much easier to talk to Sam like this. "But Dad was right, we were getting older and needed to toughen up."

Sam yawned and wriggled closer to the line of Dean's legs as much as was possible, given they were separated by the bedcovers.

"I guess things were never quite the same after I came back from Sonny's," he added sadly, but the melancholy couldn't last in the face of Sam's gentle, rhythmic breathing. Dean smiled and let himself drift off to sleep.

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

"Holy shit," cried Dean as he made his way further into the bunker, although there was nothing remotely holy about it. He'd only been away for a couple of hours, but his nose twitched at the awful stench and he tried his best not to gag. He was sure his eyes were starting to sting too.

"I knew there was something off with that last case of meat," he swore.

He had tried to keep the entrance door propped open, but the problem with secret, underground bunkers was the lack of decent ventilation.

He made his way through to the garage and opened the larger door, sighing in relief at the influx of oxygen. He was sure that the air inside was actually tinged with green.

The dogs stared up at him mournfully. "Well, don't look at me, it's not my fault." A large pug gave him a filthy look as its stomach made a loud grumbling noise.

He let the dogs out, a couple at a time, for a quick run out the back. He laughed as a few of them immediately set to eating the long grass in the paddock. "Stupid mutts, you're not cows!" he shouted to deaf ears. "You're like the guy with a hangover who swears blind he'll never drink again."

Speaking of which, a beer seemed like a great idea.

The kitchen had cleared somewhat and was almost bearable, either that or he'd burned out his remaining sense of smell. He pulled a beer from the fridge and drained almost a third of it with one pull. "I needed that," he sighed.

He was distracted by movement in his peripheral vision and he realized he must not have secured the door properly, because a couple of dogs had followed him. The evil-eyed pug from earlier was snuffling under the table making an alarming retching noise before throwing up a wad of greenery.

"Aw, man, not in the kitchen," Dean moaned. His path was blocked by a golden retriever who proceeded to regurgitate its own weight of food and--Oh my god, what is that?---over Dean's feet.

"Awesome," he sighed, frozen into inaction by a conflicting desire to get it off him now, while unwilling to track it around the bunker. Any intention of further shouting faded as he noticed with increasing concern how listless the dog now appeared.

He sighed "I suppose I better take you to the..." He stopped. Even with normal dogs it wasn't advisable to use the v.e.t. word within their earshot.

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Sam had trotted along beside Dean quite happily, and jumped up into the passenger seat of the Impala as if nothing had changed. The golden retriever on the other hand, seemed to sense their destination before Dean had even got halfway to the vets, and had taken to cowering in the back seat. Once he'd parked, Dean had had to practically drag the dog from the car.

"C'mon, dude, don't make me show you up in public," Dean hissed, trying to tug the dog without hurting it, despite it seeming to have embedded its claws in the asphalt.

He practically shoved the dog through the door. "Finally! The cats are all laughing at you, I can guarantee it," he quipped.

His mood faltered when he spied Lilith sitting behind the counter, yawning. "Hey there!" he shouted with a malicious grin as she jumped at his call. "Is your boss in?" he added, sure that it would needle her.

"You!" she growled.

"I know, so I take it that ya didn't miss me?"

Her face twisted in disdain and she started to chant.

Dean's eyes widened, but he was quick off the draw even if his shot went a little wide. Fortunately, the noise alone was enough to disrupt the spell.

"You!" he cried in return, keeping her covered with his gun.

The vet chose that inopportune moment to return, already freaked out from the gunfire he'd heard from outside. "What's going on?"

"All men are dogs," spat Lilith. She cocked her head as she considered her own words. "Women too, when I think about it. I'm just making the outside match the inside."

She pointed at Anton. "But you, you're the worst!" she cried.

"Me?" squeaked the vet, his face crumpled into a look of mortification.

Dean raised his eyebrow at that, but chose not to speak.

"You, you're all..." she waved a hand around as if to encompass all of his being.

"What did I do?"

"Walking around with all your good looks, and being selfless and kind to animals and children. But are you interested in me? No! It's like I didn't even register on your radar."

Dean pulled a face. To be honest, he'd thought he'd sensed a certain vibe.

"Well, you are kinda..." Anton replied hesitantly, looking pained. "...a bitch," he concluded with a slightly guilty expression.

Lilith looked at him in shock, her arms and shoulders slumped in defeat. It didn't last long, and a moment later her face twisted into a look of utter fury. Strange alien words fell from her lips and, as she raised her arms, arcs of electrical energy crackled from her fingers.

The witch laughed at Dean as a quick flick of her wrist wrenched the gun from his hand and sent it flying off far out of reach.

"Deep down you're just like the others, after all," she shrieked at Anton, making a throwing motion with her arms that sent bolts of energy flying from her hands across the room.

Running on pure instinct, Dean grabbed a waiting tray of instruments and, with a leaping dive, swung it up to block the path of the lightning-like energy. To his surprise the bolt was knocked back to the witch from the smooth, shiny surface of the tray as if he was playing some kind of eldritch game of tennis.

Lilith barely had time to register her dismay as she was consumed by the crackling energy spell. There was a flash of greenish light and in her place was a small Yorkshire terrier that barked excitedly at Dean.

Anton exchanged a brief glance with Dean before tentatively approaching the dog. The animal gave a disgusted huff, but settled down with a canine look of resignation. After a couple of minutes of soothing nonsense talk he scooped her up in one hand. The dog glared as Dean, but submitted to Anton's gentle patting.

"I think you're gonna need to find a new receptionist," said Dean.

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Dean glanced up as the vet came out of the examining room, followed by a Yorkshire terrier that stood guard beside him. "Shouldn't she be in a cage, or at least on a leash?" he asked, bitterly.

Anton shook his head. "Since you reckon she'll now be stuck like this forever--even with what she's done--it somehow didn't seem right." He blushed under Dean's quizzical stare. "Plus, it was bad enough just persuading her to wear a collar in case of a run-in with Animal Control," he admitted.

Dean shrugged. It's not like he really cared what happened to her anyway. Even if it looks like she got the last laugh after all.

"So, the dog you brought in had an esophageal obstruction," said Anton, going into professional mode. "He'd eaten something that got stuck in his throat," he added at Dean's blank look. "Looked like it might have been a shoe? Luckily I was able to remove it without operating, but you'll need to keep a close eye on him."

"Thanks, Doc," said Dean, his eyes soon dropping back to Sam who sat attentively at his feet, panting gently in the warm air of the clinic.

"You've not seen the bill yet," replied the vet, in a dry tone. He winced as the joke fell flat, having already noted the direction of Dean's gaze. "I still can't believe it," he added. "And that's after finding my dog cages suddenly full of people."

"Yeah," said Dean softly, rubbing behind Sam's ears. He laughed, humorlessly. "I told them they'd all had an extreme case of food poisoning and sent them on their way."

"Will he change back too?" asked Anton, after a long, awkward silence.

"He always was the sensitive one," said Dean, his voice breaking. "I thought it might just take a bit longer to wear off..." he added, trailing off.

He knelt down and hugged the dog. "It'll be okay," he said, running his hands down Sam's back.  "We're still a team, and it's cool, y'know – dogs can go in the car."

There was a sudden crash from behind him and Dean's head whirled around to see his brother--his very human and very naked brother--standing arms wrapped around himself as his slumped in the doorway from the examining room.

"What's going on?" rasped Sam.

Dean looked down, releasing the dog in his arms and surreptitiously wiped his reddened eyes. He cleared his throat in embarrassment.

"So who the Hell are you?" he asked the dog.

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

"I can't believe you gave my clothes away," Sam cried.

"We had a bunker full of people who'd just transformed back from dogs; I wasn't going to have them sitting buck naked in my Baby while I drove them back into town," scoffed Dean.

"Apparently, it doesn't count if they're still a dog," mumbled Sam, still mourning the loss of his favorite jeans.

"Are you jealous?" asked Dean, incredulously.

"I still can't believe you thought that was me," complained Sam. "I wouldn't mind, but it's an actual stray dog, not even a transformed person."

"You are jealous," Dean laughed.

Sam's cheeks flushed even while frowning furiously.  "I know I've not always appreciated you, but you're everything to me."

It was Dean's turn to blush. "I never thought you felt like that," he said, cautiously. "You always seemed so set on getting away from me."

"Dean, no," said Sam, in a pained voice. "It's always been about the hunting, and even that I've come to terms with. Never you. I know we've had our ups and down..."

Sam shook with the depth of his feeling, "Look, I know we've said some terrible things to each other in the past, but it's like Bobby always used to joke: 'family are supposed to make you miserable'."

Dean didn't reply with words, but his flushed cheeks and red-rimmed eyes were answer enough.

Sam softened his tone and smiled. "Maybe for once we could hug without having to die first, what d'ya say?"

The muscles worked in the side of Dean's jaw, his nostrils flaring. "Are you sure you didn't get changed back into a girl," he grumbled, but still pulled his brother in for a brief, but strong embrace. He took a half-step back, holding Sam by his shoulders as he studied his brother as if seeing him for the first time.

An odd expression spread across Sam's face.

"Dude, are you okay? You look constipated," worried Dean.

Sam blushed. "I think I was just trying to wag my tail," he admitted.

Dean exploded into laughter. "Was it all bad being a dog?" he asked, curiously.

Sam shook his head. "No, it was weird and confusing and to be honest, a lot of it's fading already. The main thing I remember is being hungry all the time... Oh yeah, and that everything tasted so good" he moaned. He seemed to remember something and blushed violently.

Dean narrowed his eyes. "You've got that look."

"What look?" Sam scoffed, turning a deeper scarlet.

"Just spit it out," demanded Dean.

"I may have... eaten your slippers," Sam mumbled, before slinking from the room.

Color silhouettes of a variety of breeds of dog. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

Dean had been relaxing, listening to music while lying on his bed, when a discrete cough caught his attention and he looked up to see his brother hovering in the doorway.

Sam walked over to a chair, circling it three times before finally sitting down. "I got you something," he said, holding out a bag.

Concealing his smile, Dean reached out to accept the gift, peering inside to reveal a new pair of slippers. "Awesome," he exclaimed, for once not sarcastically. From their fine finish and faux-fur lining, he concluded they were neither locally purchased nor cheap.

Sam looked pleased at the reaction, only to cock his head and flare his nostrils on detecting a scent.

Amused, Dean idly wondered how long it would take for the last of the newly-acquired canine behaviors to fade.

"So, are we keeping him?" asked Sam delicately, gesturing at the dog that was curled up, asleep, on the other side of the bed and out of immediate sight of the doorway.

"Of course we're keeping him! Although, there is the problem of naming," added Dean thoughtfully. "We can't have two Sams; it's confusing."

"I think he looks like a Champ," smiled Sam.

"Not him, you," frowned Dean. "We're going to have to start calling you Francis."

The bumper and licence plate of the Impala, overlaid with bright green dog paw prints. Digital art by tx_devilorangel

(;,;)