Disclaimer: See Chapter One
Dedicated to: J.A. Carlton
A/N: Thank you my dear friends for your awesome support and interest in my little fic. Your reviews have been very encouraging and I've devoured each and every one of them. Thanks also to the people who read, but didn't leave a review. I appreciate you stopping by.
This is the last chapter. It's all coming together here. I hope it meets with your approval
Here we go:
Ajax chewed over a mixture of feelings. He was concerned at the niggling scent of danger that had placed itself in his brain. He knew there had been no further indication that the danger was still there. He was intent on serving The Master and The Packmates. He completed his second patrol and, satisfied for the moment, took up his place on the porch by the door that led to The Master's dwelling.
He sat up for a while, panting as he looked out over the yard for any movement or sound, anything that would be where it had no business being. Seeing and hearing nothing other than the crickets and other normal night animals, the magnificent dog lay down. He put his head on outstretched paws, continuing to keep his eyes moving, his nose and his ears alert.
The Rottweiler continued like this for some time, hearing and smelling nothing out of the ordinary. He was about to drift into a light doze when his keen sense of smell alerted him. It was the danger smell from before. Ajax was instantly on his feet and moving, a low growl coming from his throat. Getting himself under control, he silently moved around to catch the location of the source of the danger. He paced back and forth in front of the fence as he had before, but could locate nothing.
His frustration built as the scent weakened until it was finally gone. Unable to hold it in any longer, he pointed his nose to the sky and barked one loud deep bark. He wanted whatever danger was out there to know that he was on the job and not easily fooled.
The three hunters in the house awoke suddenly to the sound of Ajax's bark. All three stayed in their beds unmoving to see if there was any further alarm from the dog. Dean and Sam looked at each other in the darkness, neither able to see the other clearly but each knowing the other was awake.
Sam raised his eyebrows in question.
Dean shook his head.
The younger man sat up, tilting his head at the door.
"Yeah, I hear him. You get your .45, but stay here. You can't move real fast on that ankle yet. I'll be right back."
Dean grabbed his Glock and quietly slipped through the bedroom door, meeting Bobby in the hallway. The older hunter was similarly armed, raising his left hand in greeting to Dean. The older Winchester jutted his chin in acknowledgement as he fell in step with his friend. "Does he do that a lot at night?"
Sam sat fuming for a few moments before coming to a decision. Grabbing his .45, he followed his brother into the hall where the two older hunters were quietly whispering as they headed for the door to the yard.
Dean glared at his little brother when he realized Sam had joined them. Sam returned the look with a stubborn set of his jaw and half-closed eyes. He was not going to sit around and be treated like a child.
Bobby looked from one Winchester to the other and said, "Nah, but it ain't unheard of neither. Might be he's puttin' somethin' on notice, or he might'a thought he seen a coon."
The three men quietly continued through the dark house until they reached the door to the porch. "He ain't made any other sound, has he?" Bobby whispered, already knowing the answer.
"Not that I heard."
The older man thought for a second, then seemed to come to a decision. "I'm goin' out on the porch, but leavin' the lights off. He'll come to me, and I'll be able to tell what he's thinkin' when he does. Don't you go takin' a nap while I'm out there."
The younger hunters snorted, giving their friend a gentle shove in the shoulder.
Bobby opened the door cautiously, looking and listening to the sights and sounds of the junkyard as he stepped onto the porch. He found nothing out of the ordinary, but left the door open behind him to give the brothers quick access if necessary. Quietly moving to the edge of the porch, he waited for Ajax to come. No signal was necessary. The dog was on alert and would have heard his master come outside.
The brothers stood just inside the door on either side with every hunters' sense alert. They stayed hidden, but never let their old friend out of their sight. They waited patiently for the Rottweiler to come to his master. That patience was soon rewarded when a movement in the yard caught Bobby's attention. Ajax came out of the shadows to stand at his master's feet in anticipation of a command.
"What's up, boy?" Bobby whispered.
Ajax looked deeply into his master's eyes, trying to convey his message. After a few moments, Bobby seemed to understand and motioned the dog to patrol as he headed back inside.
"What'd he say?" Dean asked, not feeling the least bit odd about his question.
"He was putting something on notice, but didn't know what it was. He's on the job, and we can go back to bed."
Without further conversation, the three men headed back to bed.
Sam sat waiting as his brother settled back down in his bed, soon breathing evenly in sleep. The younger man felt good knowing his big brother was unconcerned enough to fall immediately back to sleep. He wasn't quite as unconcerned, however. Lying down again, he listened to the sounds of the night: Dean's soft snores, the crickets, the night birds. Soon, his own soft snores joined his brother's.
Puma smiled to himself in his perch in the tree. Old Hunter, Killer, and Tall One put a lot of faith in Guardian. That was indeed very good to know. This would be a night of great importance as he watched Guardian fulfill his purpose on this plane. Being a nocturnal animal definitely had its advantages. Guardian would be nocturnal this night, but he'd also be awake for the humans during the day. While Puma slept in the sun, Guardian would be on watch. It was going to be glorious.
Bobby woke to the sun beginning to shine into his room as it rose. As was his custom, he lay listening to the sounds of the morning to see if there was anything unusual going on in his section of the world. The old hunter was never caught off guard, and this was one of the reasons for that. He suddenly realized that Ajax wasn't wanting in after last night's refusal. Jumping out of bed and pulling his pants on, he quietly went down the hall to the door to check on the dog. He felt sure that everything was fine but needed to check on things himself. As he reached the door, he picked up the shotgun that always stood next to it and looked through the window before quietly opening the door. Ajax was sitting in his favorite spot overlooking the yard. His head jerked around as the door opened, and he stood to greet Bobby.
"Anything goin' on out here, Ajax?"
The big dog fairly rumbled with pleasure at seeing his master.
Bobby looked around the yard, trying to sense any trouble but finding none. "You wanta come in for breakfast, boy?" he said with a smile as he regarded the excited dog.
At the question, Ajax stopped moving, looking out to the yard.
"Well? Ya' comin' in or what?" Bobby's gruff voice brought the dog around to him again. The hunter opened the door. Ajax hesitated one more second but bounded through the opening.
Following the dog inside and returning the shotgun to its place, Bobby walked into the kitchen where Ajax was sitting in anticipation. "Glad to see things are better for ya today, Ajax. Want some breakfast?" He laughed as the dog did a little wiggle while still sitting at attention. Bobby got the bowl and mixed some Kibble for teeth with some premium canned dog food. Everyone knew that he loved his dogs more than any human, spoiling them when he could. No one dared comment on it, however.
Ajax delved in when his bowl appeared on the floor in front of him, devouring the food in a few gulps even though the hunter had given him a little extra this morning for missing dinner the night before. Bobby appreciated the job the dog did, proving it with plenty of love and attention.
The hunter got down on one knee in front of his friend, put both hands around the dog's head and gave him a good scratch while talking baby talk to him. Ajax returned the favor with sloppy doggy kisses.
Dean had awakened to the sounds of the door being opened, Bobby stepping out on the porch, and the man speaking to Ajax. The young hunter reached for his Glock, lying quietly to discern if there was any danger. When the door closed and Dean heard movement in the kitchen, he put the Glock back in its place, relaxing back against his pillow. He lay there for a few minutes, trying to decide if he wanted to get up yet or go back to sleep. Sleep sounded good, but there was still plenty of work to do on his baby, so he got up and pulled on some pants. As he reached the kitchen, he stood in the doorway and watched the scene before him with amusement.
"If you say one word, Winchester, I'll kick your sorry ass all the way to Texas." Bobby hadn't even looked up.
"Me? What would I say, huh? You and Ajax having a private moment in your own kitchen is perfectly fine with me. I'm just a guest here. I got nothing to say about anything." Dean moved over to join the pair and added his own scratches to the older hunter's. Ajax appeared to be in Heaven.
Eventually the younger man stood and took a good look at his friends. "Any idea what had him worked up last night?"
"Nope, none. He had to think about it for a second before he came inside a while ago, too. Before I opened the door, he was sitting up staring straight out into the yard, nose and ears twitching. I didn't see or hear nuthin'." The older hunter rose, wiping his hands on his jeans as he did so. "I reckon we just need to be a little bit cautious today. Ajax'll alert us to any danger, but we gotta watch ourselves, too."
"Totally agree, man. I'm takin' my Glock out with me today just in case. I'll mention it to Sam, too."
Turning at the sounds of footsteps in the hallway, the two older hunters chuckled as Sam came into the room rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He also had a bad case of bed head.
"What's so funny?" Sam asked, blinking against the light in the kitchen.
"You are, little man." Dean thumped his brother on the shoulder as he headed down the hall to the bathroom. "Look in a mirror lately?"
Ajax was pretty tired. He'd been up all night keeping watch against the danger he had sensed earlier. When The Master opened the door as the sun was coming up, he was happy to see him and glad that all was well in the house. The Master gave the signal to come inside and said 'breakfast', definitely one of his favorite words, but Ajax was undecided for a moment. He looked back out to the yard, but The Master's gruff voice brought him around. He went in.
The Master gave him food, more than usual, giving him love when he was done eating. Soon the elder Packmate came in, also giving him love. The dog was very happy. As The Master and the Packmate began talking to each other, making delicious smells, and clattering things, he went to his place by the fire. He curled up but did not allow himself to settle down for sleep. Younger Packmate hadn't appeared to give love yet. Ajax would wait for him. Time passed before Younger Packmate came to see him, giving him his love, too. Ajax was now content. The Master and the Packmates sat at the table talking to each other and eating their food as Ajax lightly dozed, always on the alert for any piece of food that might come his way.
When they were done eating and sat at the table talking, the dog finally gave up his vigil for a deep sleep. All was well inside the house; he could 'stand down'.
Puma was pleased. He'd seen Guardian stay awake all night during his occasional rounds, sniffing the air and ground and listening closely to the sounds of the night. Guardian had not heard Puma as he crept like a ghost around the compound. The cat had made sure he stayed downwind from the dog. His strategy had worked beautifully: Guardian was without one whole night's sleep.
"So. . . What do you think that was last night, Bobby?" Sam asked as he leaned back in his chair with a cup of coffee.
"Not sure. He caught a sense of something; whether he smelled it or heard it, I don't know. The rest of the night was quiet, but he felt he had to stay on guard. We'll see what today brings."
The siblings nodded absently as they drank their coffee.
"What are you planning for today, little brother?"
"Thought I'd come out to offer my expertise on fixing the car." Sam smiled mischievously.
Dean spluttered, almost losing his already precarious balance in the chair and falling over backwards. "Like hell! You're not getting anywhere near my baby with those ginormous clumsy hands of yours. You're likely to knock something off or out of place. You can just stay in the house or on the porch or anyplace except close to my car."
The other two hunters couldn't help but laugh at Dean's reaction.
"I mean it, Sammy. Stay away." He looked at his little brother through eyebrows so low they rubbed against his eyelashes.
Still chuckling, Sam put up his hands. "Just kidding. I have no interest in working on your baby. I think I'll take Ajax for a walk. In fact, my ankle's so much better, we might go for a little jog."
The sleeping dog raised his head at the mention of his name. Not seeing anything of interest nor anyone talking to him, his head went back down as his eyes closed.
"That sounds like a much better idea." Dean slumped in obvious relief, immediately sitting right back up and pointing a finger at his little brother. "As long as you keep Ajax right along side you."
"Fine, big brother, I'll refuse to chase the sticks he throws for me." Sam's grin took any ire out of the statement.
"See to it that you do." Dean grinned in return.
Puma saw Old Hunter come onto the porch to speak to Guardian. Guardian hesitated briefly until Old Hunter barked at him. Guardian headed right into the house.
Pleased more than he could imagine, the big cat descended from his perch in the big tree. He'd take this opportunity to learn as much as he could about the compound before the men and Guardian came back outside. He crept as close to the gate as he could but realized that he wasn't going to get inside easily when he felt a force pushing him back. Sniffing at the metal gate, he followed it around to its end, sensing some strong medicine protecting the inside of the compound. He continued to search, looking for some weakness. As he approached closer to the location of the house, the medicine became stronger. He snorted in disgust, feeling that he'd have to lure them out of the grounds to accomplish his purpose.
Hearing voices from the house and smelling wonderful aromas, Puma stopped to listen. He recognized all three men talking to each other and to the dog. It sounded like Tall One and Guardian were going to leave the compound. He would attack them, which would bring Killer and Old Hunter out to defend them. It was perfect. Puma couldn't believe his good fortune. He began chanting a song of gratitude as he continued his investigation of the perimeter. When he found no chinks in the armor, he decided to find a plump animal to fill his belly while he waited for Tall One and Guardian.
Bobby and Dean took leave of the kitchen to get themselves ready for their respective days as Sam did KP duty. He didn't really mind, but a slight frown crossed his features as he realized they hadn't had the turkey bacon for breakfast. Opening the refrigerator to see if was still there, he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the package lying where he'd left it. He vowed to do the cooking the next morning himself.
The older hunters returned through the kitchen to head outside. Bobby had an order to fill and Dean, of course, had to work on his baby. Ajax watched the procession a little anxiously, but didn't move from his spot.
"Turkey bacon tomorrow, dudes."
"Right, Sammy. Whatever you say." Dean waved a dismissive hand at his brother as he went out into the yard to return to his task.
Sam turned to Ajax. "Guess I'll have to get up pretty early tomorrow, huh, boy?" He laughed as he could almost see a question mark above the dog's head.
Dean never failed to appreciate the beauty of the Impala. This morning, the sun was just right and the little bit of dew that had crept under the tarp overnight looked like sparkling diamonds. She was beautiful. There really wasn't too much left to do on her— only a few mechanical things and a little body work. When those were done, he'd let his brother help with the painting. He could trust the younger man with that. While Sam didn't love the car as much as Dean did, his normally fussy disposition wouldn't allow him to do a bad job of it.
A small shadow of concern crossed the hunter's features as he thought of the shifter that might be there to kill them. If it had traveled all that way, it meant business. Turning his back to the car, he sat on the hood, crossing his arms over his chest as he studied the perimeter beyond the fence. As his father had taught him, he studied first the general scene for any clump, lack of foliage, or color that was unnatural. He next looked at details, trying to determine the specifics of anything out of place. Finding nothing, he moved on to the next part, repeating the process again until he'd done his best for the whole perimeter. He'd had to move away from the Impala to see the whole scene. Finally satisfied, he returned to his morning's work, waving at Bobby as he saw the older hunter watching him. Both men grinned.
Bobby watched Dean as he made his detailed inspection of the perimeter of the yard. The older man followed suit with his own study of areas that Dean had yet to reach, looking for any sign of movement made to avoid detection under the intense gaze of the younger man. He saw nothing.
The mechanic knew Dean was concerned about the shifter, that it might go for Sam first to punish the older brother. Bobby hadn't gotten to be this age by being careless, either. He had enough sigils, wards, and runes around the place to repel almost anything that might come at them. He'd never dealt with a shifter on his home territory before. Mostly he'd just killed them. He made a mental note to check with Sam about the research he'd been doing. A discussion between professionals could be very helpful. The hunter returned to his work, checking the parts off the list that were ready to be picked up.
Puma was slightly concerned. Old Hunter and Killer were very diligent about their safety. He watched as the two men carefully looked for something out of place, neither looking at the same place at the same time. It made it harder for Puma to remain undetected. He retreated back into the forest, even though there was a huge clear patch from the tree line to the fence, deciding it was best to remain stationary. Movement, however slight, might very well be detected by these men.
He relaxed slightly when both hunters returned to their work, deciding that he might have to move his plan up a bit. The longer he delayed, the greater the chance of his discovery. These men were very dangerous and not to be taken lightly. He was not going to be able to wait for Guardian to be as tired as he'd originally planned. The big cat continued his silent movement around the compound but stayed further into the trees than he'd previously thought necessary. He would hope for an opportunity on this day.
As Puma climbed back into the tree he'd been resting in, a breeze brought the smell of rain in the distance. He looked at the sky where there was only sunshine at this moment. The breeze told him it would be different fairly soon, though. He would wait and see what developed.
Sam was done with the clean up but decided to get some research done before heading out for his run. He opened the windows as he moved to his laptop. It was a beautiful morning with fresh air that would be good for the old house. Bobby spent very little time inside and the place could smell kind of musty sometimes. It was a job getting the windows unstuck, but he managed.
Ajax followed him around as the windows opened with great snotty sniffs to the air when a breeze was finally able to travel through. Sam jumped when the big dog gave a low growl followed by a whine. He hadn't really been paying any attention to the animal at all but he certainly was now. "What's up, Ajax? You smell something?" Noting the furiously working nose and the pricked up ears on the four-footed friend, Sam decided to take a look outside before settling down to his research. "Let's go outside, okay?" Sam said as he scuffed toward the front of the house. Ajax followed eagerly behind. When the young hunter opened the door, the dog pushed past him and ran full tilt into the yard, nose alternately in the air and on the ground.
Sam stood on the porch observing the animal for a while before joining his brother where he was working on the Impala. "Hey, Dean?"
The elder Winchester looked up from his task at his brother's voice, frowning slightly at the look on the younger hunter's face. "What's up?"
Sam looked back at Ajax again as he approached his brother. "Has anything been going on out here?"
"Nuh uh. Why?"
"I don't know, really. I opened some windows in the house, and Ajax suddenly started growling and whining. Not a lot, but low and frustrated-sounding. I let him out, and he's been trying to find something ever since." Sam looked back again, finding the dog now at the fence.
Dean followed Sam's gaze. They both stood quietly for a few moments observing the dog's behavior.
"I don't know, Sammy. Bobby and I both looked carefully at the tree line when we came out. I haven't seen or heard anything out of the ordinary since then, but…" He gestured at the machine he'd been using and at Bobby's office where there was an unidentifiable noise.
Sam's eyebrows lifted as he listened to the sounds coming from the little building. He looked back at his older brother who shrugged with his own eyebrows and shoulders. "Is he singing?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I've thought about going over there to see if he needed help, but I didn't want to offend him."
The younger Winchester snorted at his brother's remark, putting his hand over his mouth to keep his noise level as low as possible. He didn't really think the older hunter could have heard him, though. The brothers stood together for a moment, laughing quietly at their friend's expense.
Their laughter died suddenly as Ajax went streaking past them, bumping Dean's leg and knocking him slightly off balance. Sam reached out to steady his brother. Both of them took off after the dog while Dean grabbed his Glock from the workbench as he ran. When they reached the fence, Ajax was running back and forth, barking furiously. Sam turned to yell for Bobby, but found the old friend coming fast with shotgun in hand.
"What's goin' on?"
Sam explained about the dog's behavior in the house and his pushing past Sam to get outside. "Then he streaked past us to come over here. We haven't seen anything."
Bobby squinted into the tree line again, a deep frown on his face. "He gets excited about rabbits and squirrels and such, but this ain't bunny rabbit behavior." The older man headed down the fence line in one direction as the Winchesters headed in the other direction.
"I think so." Dean nodded.
"We need to kill it."
"I know. We will."
"Any ideas on how to find it?"
"It came here for a reason, Sam. It didn't just travel all that distance for the hell of it. It'll show itself when it's ready. We'll be ready, too."
The younger hunter took a deep breath as he stood up straight, appreciating and gaining strength from his brother's confidence.
Thunder rumbled in the western distance. None of them had noticed the change in the sunlight, that it was dimmer, less cheery. Dean looked from the west to the sky in general as he began to move back toward the car. "Help me get the tarp on the Impala, Sammy." Both men trotted back to the car to begin the process of 'battening down the hatches'. The family friend also returned to his office to secure everything there. Rain began to fall as the three men entered the house.
Puma was slightly amused at the humans and Guardian. There had been movement in the house as the windows went up. That had been interesting. What had interested him even more, however, was the action of Guardian when the house door opened. Guardian had tracked him down. He'd been like a wild thing, ferocious as he'd tracked Puma's scent to the area of the fence nearest to where the big cat rested in his tree. The three hunters were soon at the fence practically peering right at him. 'Guardian must be destroyed. He must not keep me from my goal!'
What had amused Puma was the reaction of the three hunters when they heard the thunder. All three had looked to the sky, hurrying off to take care of whatever minor things held their interests this day. Guardian stayed. Guardian was the danger that would be dealt with first. Puma blinked in contentment as he began to formulate a plan to get Guardian and the three men outside the fence.
Bobby was pissed. He'd called that damn dog three times, but the stupid mutt was still out there. 'Let 'im rust! I don't care.' He slammed a window down. "Who opened these freakin' windows? The outside belongs outside. Sam?"
"Yeah, Bobby, it was me. I'm sorry man, I thought a little fresh air would be good in here for a while. Didn't know it was going to rain."
"Boy, you want fresh air, you go outside, you hear?"
"Yessir, I do." Sam said contritely, shooting his frowning brother a 'what the hell?' glance.
The older hunter's shoulders slumped as he looked at the two young men who were regarding him with concern. "Dumb mutt!"
Both brothers' faces changed instantly in understanding. Their old friend was scared for Ajax. They could hear him barking and growling outside as they closed the windows and couldn't help but worry, knowing what was probably out there. The mighty Rottweiler understood his job and was fiercely willing to do it, but Bobby had a marshmallow heart under that gruff exterior, and he loved the 'dumb mutt'.
All three men jumped as the tone to Ajax's barking changed. He suddenly sounded like he was in a battle. Running to the door and grabbing the shotgun from its place, Bobby led the way to the porch. Ajax had moved to the gate and was throwing himself against it as he railed at what was on the other side. Pacing back and forth in front of the gate, clearly taunting the dog inside the compound, was the biggest cat any of the men had seen. So deep was their shock that they stood motionless for a few seconds.
"Dean…" Sam reached for his brother.
The three men broke out of their trances, Bobby running forward to the yard and the brothers running for their weapons. The young hunters were soon caught up with Bobby as he approached the gate, Dean with his favorite sawed off and his Glock, Sam with his .45 and the other sawed off. The cat was not longer there, but Ajax was now trying to climb the fence to get out, his frustration almost unbearable.
The dog ignored his master's order and continued his effort to climb the fence. Bobby slapped the fence with his shotgun. "Ajax! Down!" This time he seemed to hear the order as he stopped his hysterical barking and looked down at Bobby.
"Ajax! Down!" Bobby repeated a little more softly, but with no less authority, leaving no doubt that he was to be obeyed.
Reluctantly and clumsily, the Rottweiler backed down far enough to make the final jump. He continued to worry and whine about what was on the other side of the fence. He needed to get out there. He looked up at Bobby, trying to convey that need to his master with his eyes.
Bobby's stubborn features melted as he hung his head and patted the Rottweiler's soggy fur. "I know, boy. We'll get 'im. I promise."
"So ... no doubt now, huh?" Sam's voice brought the others' attention to him. "He followed us." He looked at his brother. "I've never seen anything like this, have you?"
"No, I haven't. I know they can travel long distances in their animal forms, but this was hundreds of miles. No wonder he's just showed up." Dean suddenly stiffened as he looked at the tree line. "There he is!"
Ajax renewed his battle cry as the three men all looked at the golden animal seemingly taunting them from where he appeared to be simply resting. He was too far away for the shotguns to be effective, moving further back into the trees as the younger hunters brought up their silver-loaded hand guns.
"Damn! He's a smart sonuvabitch! Did you see that?" Dean looked at the others, rain flinging off his nose as he turned his head. Nodding heads and growls were the responses he got.
Looking back at the tree line, Sam pointed and exclaimed, "There he is again. Dammit!"
Ajax growled ferociously, running a little way away from the three men, beginning to dig a hole under the fence in an attempt to get to the offender. His efforts were aided and hindered by the current downpour. It made the packed earth easier to move, but made his purchase with his back feet more difficult to maintain.
"Bobby…" Dean put his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I know." Bobby stepped forward with his keys. "You boys ready?"
The brothers looked at each other, some form of communication only they understood passing between them. "Do it," they said simultaneously.
Bobby ducked his head in acknowledgement. He quietly placed the appropriate key into the lock and turned it to allow the padlock and chain to fall to the muddy ground. The gate began to creak open from its own weight. Ajax, hearing the noises of chain and lock splashing on the ground and the gate creaking open, abandoned his efforts to push past the men. Before they could stop him, he was nosing the gate to allow himself freedom. Once outside, his body became a blur as he charged to where the danger had been disappearing into the trees.
"Shit!" Bobby exclaimed as he took off after the dog with the brothers hot on his heels.
Thanks to the overhead cover, the rain was falling much thinner inside the forest. It helped them to see better, but being in the forest also gave the cat an advantage they didn't like. Each hunter stood up against a tree trunk looking and listening in a different direction. The frustration factor was high, but each man managed to maintain vigilance.
Suddenly, a cat's roar and a dog's yelp came from the direction Sam was facing. He took off at a run, the other two men following close behind with Dean swearing and calling his brother to wait for him. Sam's long legs got him to the tiny clearing first. Ajax lay on his side, panting. Sam's relief was monumental as he knelt beside the injured dog. Turning at Bobby's exclamation of grief and anger, he stood. "It's okay, Bobby. He's alive. He must have been thrown pretty hard, but I think he'll be okay. Good thing the cat didn't get a better grip, though."
Bobby collapsed onto the dog, grabbing him and holding him tight. "You damn stupid mutt! What were ya thinkin' runnin' off like that?" He moved his hands carefully along the animal's ribs and legs, making sure nothing was broken. Ajax seemed to come around a little to lick his friend's face. It seemed he was trying to give his master some reassurance. The older man let a sob escape while the younger hunters kept watch to give their friend his moment.
The younger sibling glanced at his brother with raised eyebrows.
"Don't you dare do that again! Hear me?"
"I hear you." Sam nodded contritely.
"Good!" Dean's expression softened a little. "You really think he'll be okay?"
"I do. He's tough."
"Good," came the quiet reply.
Something that both Winchesters would later describe as an 'almost sound' brought them to awareness but unable to locate it. They quietly moved off in opposite directions, weapons at the ready. The scream of a cat from above him brought Sam's head up as the huge animal leaped onto him from the tree above. Unable to get his weapon further up in time, he put out his left arm in defense with the hope those sharp teeth would be deterred by his cast.
"Sammy!" Dean screamed as he heard the cry and saw his brother go down under the weight of the big cat. Running as hard as he could, he fired his .45 slightly above the struggling duo to try and break it up.
Bobby laid Ajax back down on the ground with one hand even as he held his shotgun toward the action, shouting his frustration at being unable to get a clean shot.
As Dean got closer to his brother, the golden animal broke off the struggle and ran away with loud snarl aimed directly at the angry sibling. As he slid to his knees beside Sam, he registered that fact with a slight shock. Fear for his brother brought him back to the situation at hand. "Sam. Sammy? You with me, man?"
"'M okay." He held up his mutilated cast to show his brother. "I think it's about ready to come off anyway."
Looking in shock from his brother's face to the wreckage of the cast, the older Winchester quickly checked for further injuries. He took the shattered cast gently in his hands. "Did that bastard's teeth go through and break the skin? Are you bleeding? We'd better get you and Ajax back to the house to regroup. The cat sure isn't going anywhere, and we need some strategy. Bobby? What do you think?"
"I agree. This thing's in its element out here. We need to figure out a way to maybe trap it or something. Don't want nobody to get killed." He reached down to pick up his injured dog as he headed back to the house, Ajax licking his face.
"I'll take point. We're almost at the edge of the trees. He won't try anything out there."
Dean glared at his brother but couldn't come up with a valid reason to change it. "Okay. Bobby and Ajax in the middle, and I'll bring up the rear. Everybody pay attention!"
Dean was almost at the edge of the tree line with Sam and Bobby well and safely ahead of him when he heard the slightest of sounds behind him. 'Damn the rain!' he thought as he turned to face the danger. He knew the cat must have been timing the hunter's moves as he guarded the rear of the trio trying to get back to safety. The speed of the attack caught him mid-turn, knocking him over to the side. In a split second the cat was upon him, Dean swinging the shotgun to try and stun it to get a chance at a shot.
The other two hunters came running and screaming as they fired shots into the air. Bobby had laid Ajax on the ground and was only steps behind Sam. As they almost reached the struggling duo, a black streak came from behind them and went right for the big cat. Ajax managed to get his teeth on the cat's tail, causing the animal to roar in anger as he let go of his prey to turn towards the new threat. Ajax released his hold on the enemy's tail and took off away from the hunters, the cat following right behind.
Bobby raised his shotgun but growled in frustration at the close proximity of the fleeing animals. He looked to Sam who had thrown his shotgun down and was carefully aiming with his .45.
"What're you waitin' for boy? Kill the damn thing!"
Sam acknowledged the older hunter with a flick of his eyes as he firmed up his stance while tightening his grip on the weapon. 'Ajax is one helluva dog!' he thought as he found his target, took a breath, and squeezed the trigger.
The echo of the shot slowly died away, leaving a tableau in the rain. The two standing hunters came to life simultaneously, running in opposite directions.
Bobby reached Ajax's prone form as the dog raised his head. "You okay, you stupid mutt? Did he hurt you?" Ajax licked Bobby's face then put his head back on the ground. "No!" Bobby screamed. The dog jerked at the noise and looked back at his master. Finding no further injury to his friend, he realized that the faithful Rottweiler had put everything into the effort to save Dean. He was merely exhausted. The relieved hunter put his head down on Ajax's head and mumbled, "You damn dog! You coulda been killed."
Sam reached his unconscious brother whispering, "Nonononono!" Dean was covered in blood, but none of the gashes appeared to be life-threatening. The younger man lifted his sibling into his lap, calling his name. "Dean. Wake up, man. Come back here."
The rain was washing the blood off of the older man's face as he began to stir in Sam's arms. As consciousness returned, he started to sit up in terror, but strong arms held him down.
"It's okay. He's dead. I killed him. He won't be coming back, Dean."
The injured man looked around in confusion, finally dropping back against his little brother as the words sank in. "He's really dead?"
"Yep, all nine lives spent." Sam smiled. "How do you feel? Any specific injury we need to look at? You have some gashes, but I don't think they're anything a few stitches won't take care of."
Dean seemed to take personal inventory, shaking his head as he decided. "Nope. Nothing broken. I just sort of hurt like hell all over. Are you holding me? Aw, Sammy…" The older man managed his trademark smirk as his brother huffed while helping him up.
"Bobby? Ajax?" the older Winchester asked in concern.
Sam pointed his chin in the direction of the two in question as they came towards the brothers. Bobby was once again holding Ajax in his arms.
"He okay, Bobby?" asked Sam, his voice thick with concern.
"He will be. Stupid dog put everything he had into that run. He's completely exhausted." The family friend bit his lower lip as his voice broke on his final words.
Dean looked from one to the other in confusion. "What run?"
Sam squeezed his big brother's arm. "I'll tell you about it while we're getting you cleaned up and stitched. Ajax is a real hero. You okay on your own? Need a hand?"
Dean growled and headed off to the house with the other hunters right behind him.
Things settled down in the Singer household quickly. Injuries were stitched, stories were told, and hero dog was catered to shamelessly until he was recovered enough to return to his duties.
Sam made an appointment for the next day at the clinic to have x-rays of his injured arm. He made up a story about being caught out in the rain and the cast getting soaked beyond repair and more or less falling off. X-rays showed no further need for a hard cast and Sam was given instructions to "be careful out there". Thrilled to have the hateful attachment gone, Sam offered his dimples to the nurse and to the receptionist as he left the clinic.
A few days later, as he and Ajax came back from their run, Sam was called over to where Dean and Bobby were standing. Closing and locking the gate behind them, he went to see what his brother wanted. Dean was beaming his megawatt smile which the younger Winchester hadn't seen in some time. It was soon apparent why. The Impala was sitting there in all her gleaming black glory. The younger man was amused to realize that he actually perceived the car to be posing for him.
"She's beautiful! Is she done?" Sam asked as he ran his hand over the hood and down the sides. His brother took a rag from his pocket following Sam around the car, buffing fingerprints as he went.
"She sure is! She's purring like a kitten and is as gorgeous as I've ever seen her!"
Sam smiled as he looked at his brother. "Beautiful!"
Dean puffed up like a proud father.
There was a moment when both brothers looked in each other's eyes, a flicker passing between them. They were remembering another time they'd been at Bobby's with Dean working on the Impala to bring her back to life after the semi hit them, after John traded his life for Dean's. It cast a slight shadow over the joy of this moment for them both, but it passed quickly.
Bobby clapped his hands together. "What say we have a coupla beers to celebrate?"
The brothers heartily agreed to the suggestion.
Sam expected his brother to want to leave the next day, but it was nearly a week later when Dean made the statement that it was time to go. He'd spent his days helping Bobby in the yard while Sam spent time researching possible hunts. It was a pleasant time for all without the threat that had been hanging over them. Sam was surprised it took Dean so long to get restless, but didn't bring it up. He was sure that his big brother was just enjoying the relaxation and safety of their location.
On the day they left, both brothers now completely healed and ready to go, Bobby helped them with their bags and giving them each a hard squeeze. Stepping back, he complained about the "damned dust in the air" as he wiped his handkerchief over his eyes.
"Thanks for everything, Bobby," the brothers spoke in unison.
"Not a problem, boys. You know you can call me anytime. Anytime."
Dean nodded. "We know. Thanks, anyway."
The older Winchester turned to his younger brother, not wanting to drag out the goodbyes. "Get in the car, little brother. The open road awaits us!"
Sam clapped Bobby on the shoulder, scratched Ajax's head, and got into the car.
Bobby held the gate open for them as they drove through, locking it behind them. As he held up a hand in farewell, a hand came out of either side of the car, the horn honking as the Impala quickly shrank into the distance.
Bobby turned back to the house, the day suddenly seeming not quite as bright as it had been.
Again, thank you all for reading. Please press that little button down there and let me know what you think. Nana