-mmm...Tissue Warning. Unbetaed.
-You may not be able to tell it, but I actually really, really like the character of John. He makes bad decisions, and I don't always write him in the best light, but I really do like the guy. Honest.
-In here, I mention waiting lists to get animals into shelters. That's a real live thing, not something I made up. There's not enough space, volunteers, or money to take care of them all. I didn't write this so I could preach at anybody, but afterwards I figured I'd ought to say something about it. That's all. Read on.
Flies to Gather
As soon as Sam said, "It's a DOG!" Dean knew they were in trouble.
Dad was back in the motel room and they'd come outside for just a minute to grab a book out of the car. It was raining, big, heavy, cold drops and they paused for a moment under the awning.
Sam spotted him first. No more than a pile of bones and matted fur, the dog was scrunched down under the belly of the Impala.
"Dean." Sam tugged at his brother's arm. "It's a dog!"
"I see him." Dean pulled out of his brother's hold and marched out into the rain, stomped his feet in the puddles and kicked some water under the car.
"Hey dog," he said, trying to sound scary. "Get out of there."
The dog flinched as the water hit him and raised his head, bumping it softly on the undercarriage. He blinked at Dean through crusty eyes.
"Get out! Go!"
"He's just trying to stay dry," Sam said, splashing up next to them. He kneeled and extended an open palm to the dog. "Aren't you?"
"Sammy, don't." Dean pulled his arm back. "He'll bite you."
"No, he won't."
"He looks hungry."
"Dogs don't eat people." Sam rolled his eyes. He glanced back toward the motel room, a slow grin spreading across his face. "I bet they like hotdogs though."
"Nuh-uh." Dean shook his head. It was one thing to let the dog sleep under their car and entirely another to feed it their dinner. "Not going to happen, Sammy."
"He can have mine," Sam said happily. He stretched his hand out again and the dog fairly army crawled out the few inches to sniff at it. "Look how skinny he is."
Dean snatched Sam's hand back again and the dog stared up at him, knotted eyebrows creased in confusion.
"He'll bite you," Dean hissed, standing up and pulling Sam with him.
"No, he won't. He's a good dog. Aren't you?" Sam asked, turning his attention back to the dog. He patted his leg. "C'mere. Come on dog."
Without hesitation, the dog crawled the rest of the way out from under the car, into the rain, and stood.
It was a big dog. A BIG dog, Dean realized, possibly even part horse.
He pulled Sam back and stepped in front of him.
The dog ambled over to them slowly, head bowed. He didn't look all that threatening then, all skinny and wet, and Dean didn't back off when it raised its head and nudged him in the belly with its nose.
Dean reached out a steady hand and rested it on the dog's head, it's fur thick and wet beneath his palm. "Hey."
Sam peered around him. "Told you he wouldn't bite."
They trampled back into the room, soaked and dripping.
John sat at the table reading the paper. "You two were out there long enough," he said without looking up. "Better hit the shower. You'll catch cold and you smell like wet…" He looked up.
Crusted eyes blinked at him.
John stood quickly, glancing between his two children. "What is that?"
"It's a dog," Sam said brightly.
"I can see…I can smell that."
"He was hiding under the car," Dean explained, adjusting his grip on the scruff of the dog's neck. "Sam—We thought he could stay in here until it stops raining."
John gave the mutt one, good, hard look. "No."
"It's cold and it's raining, Dad. He'll get sick outside."
"He already is sick," John remarked. The crusted eyes and bone thinness were evidence of that.
"He'll get sicker! Dad, please."
"He's a dog, Sam. They sleep outside all the time."
Sam straightened his thin shoulders with steely determination. "Then I'll sleep outside too."
"Sammy, no." Dean said it before John even had the chance to think it. He tugged at the dog's neck, turning him back toward the door. "He'll be fine outside."
Dean pulled the door open, revealing the darkening sky and heavy, flooding drops of rain. A gust of chilly wind whipped through the room and John sighed heavily.
"Dean. Wait a second."
The dog, Sam, and Dean all turned at once, eyes identically wide.
"He can stay." John huffed. "In the bathroom. With the door closed."
"Yes!" Sam crowed. "Thanks, Dad."
Dean let the door close and smiled gently. And when he looked at the dog, he almost could've sworn that he was smiling, too.
In the morning, a Monday, John was the first to enter the bathroom, almost stepping on the dog that had sprawled across the tile, nearly taking up the entire space like some overgrown bear rug.
"Sam," he called roughly. "This thing needs to go outside."
Sam glanced nervously toward the window from where he was sitting watching cartoons. "It's still raining."
"This thing needs to go outside," John said again pointedly.
"Oh." Sam grinned, scrambling off the bed. "But he can come back in, right?"
John took another look at the dog's scabby, sad eyes. "Yeah." He sighed. "I suppose he can."
"We're out of hydrogen peroxide."
John looked up as Dean came out of the bathroom, sleeves and knees wet. He and Sam had been in there all morning trying to scrub the burrs and knots out of the dog's thick coat.
"I'll have to get some more." John nodded his thanks and went back to his work, a quiet dismissal.
Dean stood there another minute though, watching, and John eventually huffed a sigh and looked up.
Dean blinked. "What?"
"Whatever you're thinking, say it already, or are you just going to stand there and stare?"
"Uh…no," Dean stuttered. "I just, um…how long are we going to stay here?"
"A few days more." John sat back in his chair and motioned Dean over to sit at the table with him. "I'm waiting on a call from Jim about that reaper in Fort Wayne. Why?"
"Are you gonna let Sam keep that dog?" The words came out in a rush, belying any sense of cool Dean may have had.
John frowned. "No harm in it, while we're here."
Dean cast a long glance toward the bathroom door. "I guess not."
Dean did see some harm in it, and knew that John recognized that, but just as John leaned forward to question him further, the bathroom door swung open the rest of the way and Sam stepped out, dog in tow.
The animal was clean and combed, sandy brown hair shiny and mat free. His eyes were clear and moved about the room with an almost unsettlingly human-like calm.
"Well, I'll be damned," John said. "There really was a proper dog under all that filth."
"He, uh, he got a name yet, Sammy?" Dean asked.
"He already had one." Sam grinned.
And so it was that dog, became Dog.
Dog got leftover, cold hotdogs for dinner, while the rest of them had macaroni salad and turkey sandwiches, odds and ends from the Mickey Mart up the road.
Half an hour later, when Dog was throwing up all those hot dogs on the pavement outside, Sam kneeled next to him, one hand resting on the bony ridge of his spine. "That's all right, Dog," he said. "You just ain't used to it."
But the vomit was tinged red and frothy pink.
John leaned against the doorframe, watching, shaking his head, while Dean cleaned up from dinner, scrubbing the plates and silverware with the military precision John had taught, not daring to look outside.
That night, when Dog lay down to sleep, not in the bathroom, he sort of twitched and growled and moaned.
Sam sat next to him on the floor, one hand on his back, eyes wide. "Do all dogs sleep like this, Dad?"
"Sometimes," John answered slowly. "If they're dreaming." He watched the animal shake and shiver with tired eyes. "And sometimes, if they're sick."
"Dog's sick." It wasn't a question.
"I think so."
"Is he dying?"
The blunt, unwavering tone of Sam's voice caught Dean's attention and he turned, waiting for John's response.
"I don't know," John answered slowly. He looked away and picked up his cell phone, flipped it open and shut. "Maybe…could be."
Sam nodded, taking this in. After a few minutes, he shifted down onto the rug, laid his head on the wide expanse of Dog's side and closed his eyes.
The next morning, a Tuesday, it had finally stopped raining, but still no call from Jim. Late in the afternoon, the sun even came out and a heavy mist rose up from the field on the other side of the parking lot.
That thing, as John continued to call him, the dog, as Dean said, and Dog, as Sam had so aptly named him didn't throw up after his breakfast of crispy, stale bread, so they took him outside and lead him over to the field by the scruff of his neck.
At first, the animal seemed hesitant, but it didn't take long before he was prancing through the thigh-high grass like some antler less reindeer.
Sam chased after him, tumbling through the weeds, until Dog caught onto the game and stopped and waited for Sam to catch up before taking off again.
"Dean, come on," Sam yelled.
Dean moved through the field slowly, staying just close enough so Sam didn't disappear in the fog.
Dog stopped again, panting visible puffs of air, but then, instead of taking off he turned and teeth bared, leapt at Sam. Dean watched as thick paws hit Sam's bony shoulders and knocked him backward and then he couldn't see anything at all as they disappeared beneath the grass.
"Sam! Sammy!" He took off, leaping through the weeds. He knew that dog was bad. He knew it would bite. He knew it.
Sam was laughing.
Dean skidded to a breathless halt.
The dog had Sam pinned and was slobbering all over his face. Sam shoved at him and grinned.
"Get off." He laughed.
"Jesus." Dean breathed. He grabbed the scruff of Dog's neck and roughly hauled him back. "Okay, Sammy?"
Sam sat up slowly and frowned. "He wasn't hurting me."
"It looked like it," Dean countered. He released the animal with a hard shove. "Stupid dog."
"Don't what?" Dean glared and pushed at the dog again, who slunk away a few feet, big eyes shifting uneasily between the two boys.
"Don't be mean to him."
Sam didn't stand, but called the dog back over to him. "Because," he said calmly, running a hand through the soft fur between Dog's ears. "He's had lots of people be mean to him."
"Did he tell you that?"
"No." Sam glared as he climbed to his feet. "I just know it. We can at least be nice to him."
Dean crossed his arms and stepped back, but didn't say anything.
Sam continued to rub Dog's ears and the dog tilted his head and nudged Sam's side in appreciation. "That's all anybody deserves, you know," Sam said, watching the dog. "Just one person that'll be real nice to them and give them all the love they need."
Dean swiped a hand at some of the weeds, grabbed a fistful and broke their stems. "Did you read that in a Hallmark card?"
"No. It's the truth."
Dean took a hold of his brother's shoulders and started the long walk back through the field, Dog trailing after "Here's the truth, Sammy," he said calmly. "You get what you get. Doesn't even matter what you might deserve."
Soup and sandwhiches from the restaurant next door for dinner that night. On the thought that maybe it was all the human food making the dog sick, John had surprisngly picked up a can of dog food too.
It didn't make a difference.
A half-hour after losing his own dinner, Dog sat at John's elbow, ears perked attentively, watching him eat. John sighed and rubbed at his forehead.
"How come he's sick?" Sam asked quietly.
"I don't know."
"Maybe…we could take him to a vet," Sam suggested hopefully.
"Sam, I'm not going to pay for this mutt to go to the vet when I can't even…" He stopped and shoved a spoonful of soup in his mouth, but after he'd chewed and swallowed, he didn't go on.
Dean guessed he was probably thinking of last month when they'd eaten some bad bratwurst and spent a week trying to recover without the aid of a doctor.
"No, Sam. That's final."
"NO." John pounded a closed fist onto the table, nearly upsetting the entire thing. "When we leave, he's going to the pound. That's it. He's a sick dog, anyway. They'll probably just put him down."
Sam's spoon clattered into his bowl, splashing broth onto the table. He grabbed at Dog's neck. "They can't do that. He's a good dog."
Dean's eyes flicked between the two of them, wisely staying silent.
"They can," John said tersely, staring deep into his soup bowl. For a moment, nothing was said. And then, so quietly Dean had to lean forward to hear, he added, "I'm sorry."
Harsh words weren't immediately forgotten. But, later on when John wrapped his arms around Dog's middle and picked him up like he was light as snow, and set him on the bed, big hands coaxing him to lay down, Dean saw Sam smile in a way that might have been forgiving.
On Wednesday, Dean was woken by a firm hand gripping his shoulder and harsh words spoken in his ear.
"Jim called. We've got to go."
Dad moved away and Dean sat up with a groan, leaned over to shake Sam awake.
Dog was sprawled flat on the other bed, curled about the indentation John's body had left. He didn't move at all and Dean wondered if it was a good thing he'd finally stopped twitching.
"Let's go, Dean," John barked, moving about like some smooth Frankenstein. He picked up bags and clothing and papers and set them back down, somehow making progress in the whole packing process.
Dean stood wearily, just as John shoved something at him. A worn key and a credit card.
"Sign us out, would you."
Dean nodded, pausing to slip on some shoes before heading outside. The office was down the end of the row of rooms, all of which were dark. Normal people, even those that stayed in roadside motels, were still sleeping at five in the morning.
There was a bell above the office door and it rang cheerily as Dean entered.
The old man sitting at the desk looked up from his coffee and grinned. "Checkin' out early, huh?"
"Yeah," Dean answered blearily. "We wanted to beat the crowds."
The man laughed at this and slapped the counter with an open palm. "Funny kid." He sighed and sobered. "You're not eighteen are you?"
Maybe, Dean thought, he should wake up before going out and talking to anyone. "No…"
"Well, I'm going to need your parent to sign this then." He held up the receipt.
Calmly, Dean laid the key on the counter and placed the credit card beside it. "I have the money."
"Still need a signature." The man smiled tightly and tapped the form with his finger.
"I have the money," Dean repeated. "I'm paying you."
The old man wasn't smiling anymore. "Listen, son, maybe you aren't--"
He stopped as the bell rang above the door and John stepped through. "There a problem, sir?"
Dean resisted the urge to yak as the old man was suddenly sunny and all smiles again.
"Nope, just need your signature here."
John stepped forward and scrawled a few crooked, entirely illegible lines and shoved the paper at the man.
Dean turned to go, but John leaned forward into the counter. "Hey, any idea where the nearest pound is?"
"Only one in the county is out on 220." The old man shrugged. "I think they're full though. Got a waiting list. If you ask me, they should just put the animals down. Ain't no use keeping them around in those cages."
John pressed his lips together. "Any…any shelters nearby?"
John's eyes narrowed. "Animal shelters."
"Oh, no. They'd be just the same as the pound. Full. Waiting lists. Isn't it something that you've got to wait to get rid of an animal?" The old man gave John a look like this was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard and he wanted someone to agree with him.
John didn't even attempt a smile.
Outside, the motel lot was cast in the soft, gray light of almost dawn.
Dean couldn't help but jump when Dad's hand settled at the base of his neck, gripping tightly and steering them back toward the room.
It was uncharacteristic and weird, but still, oddly comforting. Dad's hands were warm and dry and rough, the way they always were, the way they always had been, sometimes Dean just forgot it.
When John let go to open the room door, the weight of his hand was missed and Dean leaned toward him, finally daring to ask, "What are we going to do with him?"
He didn't answer.
The door swung open, revealing Sam still sleeping on in one bed and Dog, twitching and shaking again in the other. John crossed the room and lay his palm on the dog's wide, soft side. He fixed Dean with a steady stare. "You get your brother in the shower, alright?"
Dean nodded silently, frowning.
John stared at him another long moment before blinking and turning away. He shook Dog awake and the big animal lumbered off the bed, brushing by Dean's arm with an icy, cold nose.
"Get him going, Dean. Now," John said on his way out the door, Dog on his heels.
Dean nodded again to the closed door, before going over to shake Sam until he was mumbling and blinking and sitting up ever so slowly. Satisfied that Sam was well enough awake, Dean went over to the window, curious where Dad was going.
The sun was just barely below the horizon; it's bright fingers already stretching across the pink, morning sky. The field had a light fog over it, and it glowed, silver and shiny in the dawn light.
Dean leaned onto the windowsill, listening to Sam rustling around and watching as Dad tromped through the weeds, Dog dancing along behind him. They were little more than gray silhouettes, the tall, hunched form of his father and the dog, graceful and lionesque, tail wagging slowly.
Something else caught his eye. The long, familiar shadow of something awful clutched tightly in John's right hand. Realization hit Dean like a thick fist in his belly. He could've sworn he even heard the distinctive thoompf as air left his lungs.
Behind him, Sam was just standing up. "Dean?"
"Sam!" Dean turned wildly, reaching for his brother. "Get in the shower."
"What?" Sam protested sleepily.
"Now, Sam. We have to go." Dean pulled and pushed at him, but Sam just wasn't moving fast enough, so Dean grabbed a bag, feverishly rooting through it for a change of clothes.
"Where's Dog?" Sam asked, standing uncertainly in the middle of the room. "Where's Dad?"
"Shower, Sammy. Now. Please. Come on." Dean nearly carried him into the bathroom and got the water going before Sam shooed him back out.
"I'm going," he said, annoyed, and closed the door.
Dean heaved a breath of stale air, listening as water ran through old pipes in the walls. On shaking legs, he crossed to the window.
The rising sun was in his eyes then, and John stood in the middle of it, one hand held out, palm down, stay, the other holding the rifle, braced against his shoulder. Dog was lying down, Dean guessed. He couldn't see him, couldn't see him at all, couldn't see.
The sharp crack of the rifle reverberated through the air.
John lowered his arms.
Slowly, Dean stepped back away from the window until his knees hit the edge of the mattress and he nearly fell down to sit. He sat there for a moment, staring out the window into the blinding sun and held his breath, held his breath for reasons he couldn't even admit to himself.
At least, he thought, Sam didn't see. At least, he thought, Sam didn't hear.
And then the bathroom door opened.
And then the room door opened.
Sam took two steps out, still dressed in t-shirt and sleeping shorts and said "Dean? What was that?" before he saw John.
The rifle case was suddenly so obvious sitting there on the floor and Dog was nowhere to be seen and Dean was nearly blind, seeing blue and green spots after staring into the sun, but he could still smell it. That strong, metallic twang of gunpowder.
He knew that Sam could smell it too, and even if the kid weren't some kind of genius, he'd still be able to put two and two together to get four.
"What?" Sam stared at John. "What?"
"Sammy…" John started. He shifted the warm rifle from one hand to the other, maybe wishing for a place to hide it.
"Dad…what?" Sam stuttered.
Dean figured if he could just die right then, everything would be okay. It would be better than having to live this. He rubbed at his eyes, wishing the spots away.
"What?" Sam kept saying, in that breathless sort of whisper. "Dean…?"
Dean turned, slowly, but couldn't see, the whole room a swirl of blue and green and black.
"Where is he?" Sam finally asked and John hung his head.
Sam was gone in a breath of wind and then John was putting the gun in Dean's hands, taking his fingers and wrapping them around the muzzle like he was some kind of play-doh puppet. John's rough palms patted at his hands to be sure he had a hold of it.
"Can you?" he asked. "Just take care of that."
"Yeah." Dean nodded robotically. "I can do that."
John was gone too then.
Alone in the room, Dean set about disassembling the gun, cleaning the necessary parts and packing it away in the case.
The sun was higher in the sky and hot on his shoulders by the time he finished and set out across the parking lot and through the field.
He hadn't washed his hands and the stench of gunpowder and oil still hung on the back of his tongue when he found Sam there, curled up in the weeds next to Dog's body.
Dean figured that for as long as he might live he'd never be able to associate that smell with anything but loss…and lost faith.