A/N: This is a continuation of a previous fic, but it is not at all necessary to have read that to understand this one. But if you're interested, the other fic can be found in the story "Two fics, one angsty, one cracky" – it's the angsty one ;)

LOVE.

:::

Dean hates being led.

Sam gets that, he does, because what twenty-six year-old wants to hold hands with his little brother? But it's annoying as hell to reach out and get smacked away, time after time, only to watch as Dean trips over a curb or slams into a wall or knocks over another bottle of beer. By the end of the first week in the new apartment, Dean has a broken pinky toe and a hundred new bruises, and the nice maple coffee table that came with the unit is cracked in half down the middle.

It's different when they go out, of course – Dean will concede to a hand on Sam's arm, or let Sam take his elbow, but what he likes best is to walk with his shoulder pressed up next to Sam's, letting the proximity and the slight tells of his brother's body – a twitch that indicates he's going left, the hitch in his step that means he's stopping – guide him. But it's by no means foolproof, this method, and honestly it's kind of irritating to have Dean stuck to his side like that – the forced contact wears on both of them, and they fight over nothing, over stupid shit like whether or not Sam moved the blue armchair in the living room (he fucking didn't).

So Sam asks Dean's doctor to bring up visual aids again, hoping maybe his brother will be more receptive this time, and he sits anxiously by Dean's side as the doctor hands them pamphlets for classes and explains about different options: dogs, canes, Braille, voice programs for the computer, the latter of which they've already installed on Sam's laptop. Dean is quiet, takes the pamphlets and folds them over in his hands even though he can't read them.

"But I'm not – I'm not blind blind," he says finally, when the doctor's finished. "You said it's not gonna get much worse than it is now."

There's a pause, and Sam shakes his head slowly. He knows that Dean can see light, can make out vague shapes, but from what little Dean has told him and from the material the doctor's given him to read, he also knows that Dean's color perception and depth perception are gone, and really his vision is little more than a sea of flickering grey and of mutable figures that appear out of nowhere and knock him on his ass daily.

"That's true," the doctor agrees gently, pityingly. "What I would recommend for you, then, Dean, is you feel that way, is a lighter, foldable version of the white cane – for identification purposes as much as to help guide you."

"Identification purposes?"

"To alert people that you're visually impaired."

Sam winces a little, but Dean just twitches his jaw and nods.

"Okay," he says. "Sounds good."

He doesn't get a foldable cane, though, goes for a stronger one that won't collapse accidentally, and it's a pragmatic, realistic choice; a choice that's characteristic of the Dean that has emerged in the wake of his vision loss, a Dean that Sam sometimes doesn't recognize. Someone cool and calm in a way Sam's brother never was.

It scares Sam sometimes, really scares him, how eerily collected Dean is, when Sam feels like little pieces of himself are falling out all over the place. Dean had set aside all of four days to freak out, four days when they were still trying to figure out what the fuck to do and John still hadn't returned any of Sam's calls and Dean's eyes were failing more and more each day – for four days Dean had been a wreck. And then – it was like he'd flipped a switch.

Now it feels like the only strong emotions Sam sees are a rare but furious frustration, and a base coat of mocking disdain. Dean scoffs every time Sam suggests he take what Dean calls a "How-to-be-a-blind-guy" class, even though it's been an uphill struggle trying to figure out how Dean can pay for things without seeing the dollar bills, or how to make sure he knows what clothes he's putting on his body. They've developed systems, but they're far from perfect, and Sam's frustrated by Dean's refusal to listen to how other blind people get along, because Dean adamantly insists that he's not blind, for chrissake, he's just really fuckin' nearsighted, so shut the hell up already.

He keeps himself busy during the day, is on the computer a lot, on a touch-typing program Sam found, or surfing the internet and listening to that monotonous, robotic voice read him websites, doing research and sending it along to their father. He's tracked a series of weather patterns recently that John says might be the key to finding the demon, and even if John hasn't visited save for that one, painful week when he first learned about Dean's diagnoses, he and Dean spend hours on the phone hashing out theories and debating shit Sam could care less about, like which pistol is best for shooting possessed bats.

But other than research, other than brief frustration and sarcasm, there's nothing. Dean takes everything in stride, good and bad, doesn't really smile, but doesn't frown, either. Is just – blank.

But, Sam guesses, it's better than the alternative, which Sam can't help but feel himself, sometimes, watching his brother struggle to match buttons to the right buttonhole, or trying to lace his boots: a deep, deep despair that settles in his chest, right next to the black hole that was created by Jess's death.

Everything just keeps getting sucked into it, and Sam doesn't know how to stop it.

:::

When they get home from the doctor's office, Dean feels his way along the wall in the foyer and hangs his coat on the peg there, then turns in Sam's direction expectantly.

"Okay," he says. "Go fuck up the apartment."

"What?"

"Go mess shit up. Move stuff around. If I'm gonna use this cane, I gotta practice, and I can't practice if I've already memorized where everything is."

"I—" Sam stutters, surprised. "You mean like, an obstacle course?"

"Long as I don't have to jump through any fucking hoops."

"How 'bout flaming logs?"

Dean smirks and turns away, uses the cane to tap his way hesitantly into the kitchen rather than trailing along the wall like he usually does, and Sam hears the refrigerator door open, hears the scuff of a chair dragged out from the table. He has to will himself not to listen for the sound of breaking glass or flesh thwacking against wood, because although Dean's been better in the kitchen lately, it's still tough for him to navigate through the cupboards and around the counter.

It takes about fifteen minutes for Sam to haul their sparse furniture around the cramped living room, setting the armchair in the middle and the T.V. in front of it, taking the cushions off the couch and strewing them around the room like big cotton lilypads.

He does Dean's room next, though there isn't much to move, just a wooden chair and the bed and a small dresser, but he takes the drawers out of the dresser and stacks them around, steps back into the living room to survey his handiwork.

It looks like a blind person set up the apartment, and he can't help but snort in bitter laughter at that thought.

"Okay," he says, coming into the kitchen. "It's all set."

Dean is drinking a beer and finishing a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, and he moves his head up as Sam comes in, focuses in his direction.

"Didja do the bathroom?"

"Dean, there's like, a toilet and a tub, that's it. I can't really yank those up and move them around."

Dean acknowledges that with a reluctant tilt of his head, sets his beer down carefully and pushes himself up.

"I got jelly on my face?"

"You're good."

It's hard not to hover, but Sam's pretty sure Dean wouldn't appreciate it, so he makes his own sandwich and gets his own beer and reads the paper, listens to the tap-smack of Dean's cane. For the first half-hour it's mostly heavy thwacks, as if Dean's just kind of swinging the thing around arbitrarily, but slowly it evens out and Dean's footsteps get a little more certain.

Sam passes through the living room on the way to his bedroom, and he hesitates for a moment before sticking himself purposefully in his brother's way, lets the white cane poke at his toe, his shin, his thigh.

"Hey, hey," Sam says, jumps back as the tip of the cane gets dangerously close to something he doesn't really want to get prodded. "It's me."

"I know it's you, dumbass," Dean says. "I can tell a human from a couch."

"You can?" Sam asks, trying not to sound too eager, because Dean doesn't talk much about the specifics and Sam's hungry for details.

"Well, yeah," Dean says, waves his hand vaguely. "You're a big dark thing. The couch is a little dark thing."

"What about the window?"

"A big light thing."

"Okay," Sam says. "What about the T.V.?"

There's a pause, and Dean shrugs a little. "Dunno."

Sam swallows, drops it. "I'm going to my room, gonna take a nap or something. You need anything, wake me up."

Dean nods dismissively, and Sam walks to the hallway and to the door of his room, can hear the tap-tap of the cane start up again, and he thinks that's probably a sound he's gonna have to get used to. It makes him smile, for some reason. Better than listening to Dean's half-muffled curses as he stubs his toe again.

:::

They go out for dinner the next night, walk the two slow blocks to the Mexican place where Sam works part-time as a server, and Dean takes the cane, swings it carefully out in front of him as they walk, Sam floating a hand along behind his back just in case.

"I feel like a fuckin' idiot," Dean mutters, twisting his fingers around the handle of the cane as they stand at a crosswalk. "Are people staring at me?"

"They're not staring."

"But they're looking."

Sam's not gonna lie. He doesn't lie to Dean about shit he can't see. "Yeah, some of them are looking."

The crosswalk sign changes to walk, then, and Sam gives his brother a gentle nudge to let him know, and they start forward again. It's eight o'clock, brisk and chilly, and they live in a relatively quiet area of the city but it's Friday night so the street is busy, cars beeping and humming, people talking, music playing from inside the apartments they pass. It smells like exhaust and cooking food and dirty pavement, and as a beat-up Civic drives by Sam catches the whiff of marijuana floating from the window. Since Dean started losing his vision, Sam's become more aware of his own other senses, constantly trying to imagine what Dean's world is like, now. It's frightening but it's also very alive; busier, somehow, than the sighted world. Unpredictable.

Suddenly there's a high-pitched yelp, and Sam is jerked out of his thoughts to hear Dean say, "Shit, what'd I hit?"

"You hit my dog," a young woman says, pulling to a halt. "You totally smacked him right in the face!"

Except she doesn't seem mad, is laughing as her tiny, scrunchy-faced white dog retreats between her legs.

"Fuck, I'm sorry," Dean says, and it's clear he's unsure whether to smile or not, "is he all right?"

"A little startled, but he'll make it," the woman says, exchanges an amused glance with Sam.

"He looks all right," Sam agrees.

"He must be freakin' tiny, if I got him in the face," Dean says. "What is he, a Chihuahua?"

"Probably got some Chihuahua in him," the woman says, "but he's just a mutt. A tiny, tiny mutt."

"Can I pet him?" Sam asks, can't help it, because it's so little and fluffy.

"Sure thing."

Sam hunkers down and gives the dog a ruffle on the head. "Hey, boy. How's your face, huh?" He looks up, gives Dean's knee a gentle tap. "Dean, you wanna…?"

Sam's pretty sure Dean is gonna say no, so he's surprised when Dean shrugs and lowers himself hesitantly onto his haunches, lays his cane down and holds out an uncertain hand that isn't quite in the right direction, but it's close enough, and the little dog comes forward almost immediately and gives Dean's thumb a long lick.

Dean looks startled at the contact, but he feels carefully for the dog's ears and gives him a scratch, which earns him another enthusiastic lick. He strokes a hand down the dog's head and to his tail, trails a finger down to one tiny paw and then back to the ears.

"He's cute," Dean comments, then seems to realize what he's said, and he pulls his hand away, stands back up. "Seems cute," he finishes lamely.

"He's kinda ugly, to be completely honest," the woman says, which surprises a laugh from Sam, because it's true.

"Well," Dean says, "sorry I tried to golf with him."

The woman lets out a cackle of delight and Dean grins finally, that brilliant smile Sam almost never sees anymore, and it hurts a little to see Dean's green eyes focused somewhere over her head, the brightness directed at no one but the dusky streets.

The woman doesn't seem to mind, however, and Sam can pinpoint the moment when she really looks at Dean, the moment she realizes he's not just a blind guy, he's a young, unusually good looking blind guy. Sam wonders if Dean is as aware of this transition as he is.

"Have a nice walk," Dean tells her, readjusting his grip on the cane. "Keep your mutt safe."

She laughs again and starts off down the street while Dean sends a hand out into the air beside him, finds Sam's arm and gives it a punch.

"You wanna warn me next time I try to maim someone's pet?"

"Sorry," Sam says, contrite, "I wasn't paying attention. Shit. Sorry."

Dean shakes his head, then says, "I'm kidding, Sam, it's not your fault. You shouldn't have to watch out for shit like that."

"Actually, I should."

Dean shakes his head again, looks like he's gonna say something but just starts moving forward instead, slow and careful. Sam moves with him, knocks a deliberate elbow into his side to let Dean know how close he is. Or how far away.

"She sounded hot," Dean says after a moment. "Was she hot?"

"She was pretty," Sam allows. "You woulda liked her, probably."

"Brunette? Tall? Kinda pear-shaped?"

Startled, Sam turns. "How the fuck'd you know that?"

Dean smirks. "Just knew."

"How?"

"I could kind of see she was tall." Dean navigates carefully around a soda can on the sidewalk. "And she sounded brown-haired. Sounded like she had big legs."

Sam shakes his head, blinks. "That's weird, Dean."

"Your face is weird."

"Oh ho, good one."

"Better than your face."

At the restaurant they sit at a booth in the back, more out of habit than anything else, and the waitress, Nicole, brings by a complimentary order of jalapeño poppers and two beers.

"We'll take two house burritos," Sam says. "Extra guac. Tell Gilberto not to put so much cheese on mine, okay?"

"Will do," Nicole says, brushes a hand across Dean's shoulder. "How you doin', big brother? Haven't seen you in a few days."

"I'm awesome," Dean says, tilts his face towards her, and Sam wonders if he can see her outline at all. Wonders if he can tell from her voice that she's got a body like an Amazon, all legs and arms and neck. Wonders if he knows she looks a little like Jess. "How're you holdin' up?" Dean continues. "How's the mini-me?"

"Kat? Annoying as hell," Nicole says, lets out an exaggerated sigh, but she's smiling fondly. "Yesterday she told me first grade was the work of the devil. The work of the devil. The shit that comes outta her mouth, I swear to god."

"I dunno," Dean says somberly. "The A-B-Cs can be pretty fuckin' demonic, if you ask me. All that L-M-N-O-P shit, sounds like one letter but really it's five – something's not right about that."

Nicole laughs. "You know, Sam told me you taught him to read. And here I was wondering why he's practically illiterate."

Dean chuckles, and Nicole gives him another brief shoulder-pat before turning to Sam. "Hey, you're not working tomorrow, right?"

"No, why?"

"There any way you could cover for me? Kat's dying to go to this ballet-musical type thing with dancing bears or some crap like that. I mean, it's not a big deal, but—"

"Sure," Sam says. "Definitely."

"Oh, man, you so win," she says. "Thanks, Sam."

"Not a problem."

She walks away and Sam watches his brother feel a hand across the table, searching for the basket of jalapeño poppers, and Sam nudges them into the trajectory of his groping fingers.

He wonders what Dean does while he's at work – probably research, or listens to T.V. or maybe one of the books on tape Sam's bought him, but Sam can't help but worry that he just sits on the couch and stares out into the darkness. It's a stupid way to think, that Dean only exists when Sam is there to see him, to talk to him, but Dean's been so – so empty, lately… like he's going through all the motions of life and of talking, but his heart's not in them.

"That dog was funny," Sam offers, and Dean nods.

"Where's my beer at?" he asks, and Sam reaches over to press the bottle into his hand, watches him take a careful sip.

"We could get a dog," Sam says. "The landlord allows pets."

"What, you mean, like, a seeing-eye dog?"

"No, I just mean, a dog."

"You want a dog?"

Sam shrugs, remembers Dean can't see him. "I could go for a dog."

Dean groans. "Okay, Sam? You "go" for hot dogs, not actual real animals. They're a lot of work, man. A lot of work."

He sounds so much like a skeptical parent that Sam can't help but smile. "I know that. But a smallish dog? A – spaniel, or a terrier or something?"

When Dean snorts Sam can't help but smile. "Okay, so I don't know anything about dogs. But it could be nice, don't you think?"

"Maybe," Dean says, sips his beer. "We can think about it."

Nicole comes back with their food, then, and they're both distracted, Dean groping around trying to find a fork and Sam arranging things so they're more navigable.

"Okay," he says, leaning back, "you got guacamole at three o'clock, rice at six o'clock, beans at nine o'clock, and the burrito's kind of in the middle of everything."

Meals are still a bit of a production, harder than Sam would have imagined, but Dean's stopped missing his mouth altogether, and things are getting easier. At first, when his vision started getting really bad and he couldn't see his food anymore, Dean would keep one finger resting on his lower lip and use the other hand to steer the fork, as if he had to remind himself where his mouth was. It was a strange, almost childish gesture, and Sam was glad when Dean stopped doing it.

"What about salsa?" Dean asks. "We got salsa?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry. Uh, it's like… four o'clock."

Dean nods, pokes his burrito with a tentative fork. "Burrito?"

"Yep," Sam confirms.

"What would I do without you?" Dean asks, and instead of his usual weightless sarcasm it comes out strangely heavy, bitter.

"Lucky you won't have to find out," Sam says lightly, and Dean doesn't say anything.

He eats slowly, carefully, stops every so often to ask Sam if he's got anything on his clothes or the table, which Sam hates because Dean never gave a shit, before. They don't linger, just pay the tab and go back out into the now-dark city.

Once on the street, Dean puts out a hand and Sam steps into it automatically, not sure what Dean wants, but his brother trails a palm down Sam's shoulder and grips the crook of his arm, gives a little nod, and Sam, startled, moves forward.

Dean doesn't generally let Sam guide him like this, not so obviously, anyway, and Sam finds that he relaxes into it, relaxes into the knowledge that for now at least he doesn't have to worry so much, can feel Dean's absolute trust in his control. That trust is, Sam thinks, the most terrifying thing about his brother these days – but Sam's not ever going to break it. He knows what it's like, to have that complete trust in someone, and knows too what it's like to have that ripped out from under you – by death, by blindness, by stupid fights over college and duty and things that go Boo.

He doesn't want to be the one to rip that security blanket out from under Dean.

Not again.

:::

It's an accident, a fluke, completely beyond Sam's control, but three weeks later, after the conversation has already faded from his mind, he comes home with a puppy.

He'd been working the lunch shift and got to talking to one of his tables, a middle-aged woman and her nine year-old daughter, who'd had a lunchbox covered in puppy stickers.

They'd gotten into conversation about dogs, and Sam had mentioned, casually, that he was thinking about getting a dog, and the woman had mentioned, not-so-casually, that their cockapoo had just had puppies and they were trying to give them away to loving homes.

"If you want," the woman, Jane, had said, "you can give us a call when you're off work and come take a look. We only live a few blocks down."

"Oh," Sam had said, had taken her card and thanked her. "Maybe I will."

He hadn't planned on it, really he hadn't, but when he'd mentioned it to his supervisor she insisted they use the office computer to google cockapoos, and holy shit, if Sam didn't know better he'd say there were some demonic forces at work there, because it just didn't seem natural that something could be that adorable.

So he had called Jane, just to go see the puppies, to play with them for a few minutes and then leave, maybe talk to Dean about it, and he went up to her big, sunny fourth-floor apartment and sat down in the middle of six cockapoo puppies that squirmed and wriggled and licked his hands and nuzzled his chin, and knew within five minutes that he would be leaving with one, knew exactly which one it would be.

It was the biggest, which wasn't saying much, and it had marched right up to him and tucked its head underneath his chin and then fell asleep. Just like that, no questions asked. Just slumped against his chest, let out a happy puppy-sigh, and was out like a light.

"Oh, she's a sweet one," Jane had said when Sam had looked up at her, eyes wide and awe-struck and a little dazed. "Feisty, though, too. Needs a lot of exercise."

"I can exercise," Sam had said, and Jane had laughed.

"I don't doubt your ownership abilities. I can tell you're a dog-person."

Sam had never really thought about it, but he nodded anyway. "I am. I really, really am. How much are you asking for her?"

"No, nothing at all, we're trying to get rid of them and we're certainly not looking to be breeders," Jane had said. "You're gonna have to get her shots and everything, but as far as I'm concerned she's yours. As far as she's concerned, too, looks like."

And so Sam walks home with the puppy tucked into his jacket, doesn't let himself think too hard about what he's done, or how pissed-off his brother's going to be, until he opens the door to the apartment and a bewildering senses of fear overwhelms him.

"Dean?"

"In the kitchen," Dean calls, and Sam walks slowly through the living room, hovers in the doorway and watches his brother as he feels around in the kitchen drawer, an open jar of mayonnaise and a haphazard sandwich sitting open-faced on a plate on the counter in front of him.

There's a fresh band-aid wrapped messily around Dean's hand, and Sam can't help himself, sucks in a breath.

"Dean, what'd you do to your hand?"

"Ah, I cut it slicing a tomato," Dean says. "It's no big thing."

The puppy takes that moment to yawn, and Dean freezes, half-turns in Sam's direction and cocks his head.

"Sam," he says. "Was that you?"

"Uh, no," Sam says, takes a few steps forward. "I kind of – I kind of – we kind of have a puppy. I got a puppy."

"You what?" Dean asks, gaping, and it would be funny if he didn't look so furious. "Sam, what the fuck."

"Dean," Sam says, a little taken aback by his vehemence, "you're gonna love her, just—"

"Sam, I don't want a fucking puppy," Dean says. "Christ, I really don't want a puppy. Why the – what made you think this was a good idea? What the hell were you thinking? You have to take it back."

"Dean," Sam says desperately, "you haven't even met her, come on, look at her, look how cute she is, how can you not —" and he stops, because he realizes what he's said, realizes that it doesn't matter how adorable the dog is; Dean can't see her anyway.

"No," Dean says, pushes off the counter and feels for the wall and follows it to the door. "Sam, you're fuckin' crazy. What the hell are we gonna do with a dog, huh? What're we gonna do while you're at work, at school? Dogs need to be walked, and fed, and all sorts of other shit, and how the hell am I supposed to do that, Sam? Dogs need to be taken care of, and I can't take care of a dog, I'm gonna fuckin' kill it by accident and I don't wanna kill it, Sam, I really really really do not want to kill it, so just take it back, all right, take it the fuck back or I swear to god, Sam, I swear to god…"

Sam stares, astonished, as Dean's voice breaks and he raises one shaking hand to his face, takes a deep, ragged breath and covers his eyes, tilts his head towards the ceiling.

"Dean," Sam says, lost, watching his brother come apart over nothing, over a puppy. "Dean, what the –"

"Move," Dean says suddenly, comes towards him, one hand outstretched, "get outta my way, Sam." He elbows Sam roughly aside, stumbles into the living room, plants a hand on the wall and follows it to the hallway, makes it to his bedroom and slams the door before Sam can even think of anything to say besides Dean.

A moment later Sam hears a muffled thud and the crash of something falling to the ground, and then he hears his brother bark, "Fuck!"

And then Dean says it again, louder, "Fuck – fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK," and then there's another crash, and another, and another, and then silence.

Sam stands in the kitchen, stunned, puppy wriggling against his chest, trying to process what just happened. He crosses the living room, hovers in the hallway, not sure if he should check on Dean, if Dean's all right, doesn't know what to do.

"Dean," he tries, and there's no answer, but he hears a hitched, muffled gasp and it occurs to him that Dean is crying.

Sam knocks one useless hand against the door and then puts his back against it, slides down 'til he's sitting on the ground, and the dog squirms out of his grasp and tumbles across the wooden hallway. Sam brings his knees up to his chest and drags a trembling hand down his face, realizes he's got tears smeared across his cheeks, realizes he's crying, too, and it's a short step from there to the kind of held-back, silent sobbing that hurts from the inside out, presses on his chest and his heart until he thinks he's going to throw up.

He pushes himself to his feet, goes into the living room and sits down on the couch and puts his head in his hands and cries until he's so exhausted and his eyes hurt so much that there's nothing else he can do but close them, and go to sleep.

:::

He wakes in darkness, and for a brief, panicked moment he thinks he's as blind as Dean – but then there's a jingling sound, and a light comes on, Dean's hand at the chain for the ceiling lamp.

Sam blinks swollen eyelids, realizes there's a puppy asleep on his lap, though he's not sure how something so small managed to clamber up the couch.

"Sam," Dean says at him, uncertain, like he's not sure if his brother's on the couch or not.

"Yeah," Sam says hoarsely, and Dean digs into his pocket for his cellphone, presses a few buttons until a robotic voice announces that it's nine o'clock P.M.

"Sorry I flipped out," Dean says, comes forward, eyes squinting at the outline of the couch, and he feels for the cushions and lowers himself down on the opposite side of Sam. "Uh, you wanna watch a movie?"

It's disturbing to Sam how many words in the English language have to do with sight.

"Dean—"

"We still have Spinal Tap, right? We could watch Spinal Tap."

"Okay," Sam says, defeated, because he doesn't really know how to have the conversation they need to have. "Uh – I have to take the dog out first."

Dean's mouth goes a little tight but he just nods, and Sam takes the puppy out to the back patio they share with the other tenants, nods a hello at Mrs. Gershwin, smoking her cigars, watches the puppy nose around for a good place to do its business.

He finds, when he goes back upstairs, that "a good place" was also apparently the rug at the foot of Sam's bed, because there's a neat pile of dog poo and a yellow stain. He stares at it, and thinks that maybe Dean was right. What was he thinking?

God, what was he thinking?

He'll take her back tomorrow, explain the situation to Jane. It's a disappointment, but it's not the end of the world – someone will want her, she's the cutest thing in the whole fucking world, just because Sam can't have her doesn't mean someone else won't love her.

Dean is on the floor in front of the T.V. holding two D. in his hands, and he holds them up when Sam comes back into the room. "One of these Spinal Tap?"

"The right one," Sam says, and Dean fumbles it out of the case and into the D.V.D player, smoothes his fingers along the television and counts until he finds the volume button, then turns it way up.

They've both seen the movie a thousand times, so Sam doesn't have to explain to Dean what's going on, but it's kind of a habit by now, and he keeps up a steady explanation in a quiet undertone, almost speaking to himself.

"…they're sitting around a makeup table, he's trying to eat those tiny sandwiches by folding the bread in half…"

It's unnerving to watch Dean stare at the ceiling instead of the television, and when he laughs at the funny parts it sounds hollow, practiced. It's a relief when the movie is over and they can get ready for bed, bumbling their way through the nighttime routine of toothbrushing and face-washing and going into their rooms.

Sam takes the puppy out again before he goes to sleep, and she spends the night curled up beside his feet, snoring little doggy snores, and Sam thinks what a shame it is that they have to give her back.

:::

The next morning Sam wakes up to the smell of smoke, and he stumbles into the living room to find Dean on the couch feeding the puppy little pieces of burned toast. Dean's flannel shirt is buttoned wrong and he's wearing two different socks.

"I think she crapped in the kitchen," Dean says without preamble. "It smells funky in there."

Sam moves to the kitchen, which by this point just smells like charred bread, but sure enough, there's a pile of dog shit in the corner. "Damn," he says, with plenty of disappointment but no real heat. He's a terrible pet-owner. That's why they have to give her back.

He cleans up the mess and heads back into the living room, stops in the doorway and watches. Dean is hunched over, forehead furrowed and fingers trailing across the puppy's body, feeling her nose, her ears, pinching her tail.

"What kind of dog is this?" he asks.

"Cockapoo," Sam admits, winces in anticipation, and sure enough, Dean snorts in disbelief.

"Cock? A poo? Sam – did you get a lapdog? Is this a fucking lapdog?"

"Yes," Sam says. Yeah. He's a fuckin' idiot.

Dean shakes his head in disbelief, splays a hand across the dog's body like he can't quite comprehend how small it is. "I'm gonna step on it, Sam."

"It's a her."

"Yeah? What's her name, Princess Spamuel?"

"She doesn't have a name," Sam says, crosses his arms defensively. "We're not even gonna keep her, so it's doesn't matter."

"Well," Dean says after a long moment. "You'd have to get a leash."

Sam blinks, tries to figure out if he'd heard wrong, tries, "Yeah, we'd get a leash." Not too eager – playing it cool.

"You have to get, like, dog food."

"We'll get dog food."

"I don't really want anything to do with this," Dean says. "If she shits in the house while you're at work, you clean it up when you come home, you hear? I can't go around on my hands and knees looki—trying to find dog shit.""

"Fair enough."

Dean nods, gives the dog another poke and pushes himself up from the couch. "I'm gonna make more toast. And not burn it."

"Okay."

Sam watches the puppy track Dean's movements as he makes his careful way into the kitchen – counting steps, Sam knows –, and he watches as the dog cocks its head, seems to come to a decision, and leaps off the couch to run after his brother.

Not fucking fair. Girls always like Dean better.

"Sam," Dean hollers a moment later. "Sam, I am gonna step on this fucking thing! How the hell am I supposed to know where it is?"

And that's how they end up in a pet store, Dean running his hand along belled collars until he finds one with a loud enough jingle.

He's gotten pretty good with the cane, and he taps his way along the aisles to where Sam is standing by the register. Sam clears his throat so Dean knows where he is, and Dean turns towards him, grips the counter with his cane hand and holds up the collar, gives it a jangle. "What color is this?"

"Green."

Dean cocks his head. "What color is the dog?"

"Oh – she's kind of sandy, with some white."

"Okay," Dean says, smacks the collar down on the counter, and the woman at the register, who'd been watching the whole exchange with voyeuristic interest, jumps back. "We'll take it."

:::

"Thought you said you wanted nothing to do with this dog," Sam says later as they're crouched down pouring puppy chow into Grace Slick's new plastic doggy bowl, and Dean shrugs.

"You're gonna do all the hard shit. I'm just gonna cuddle it."

Sam chokes on a laugh at that, actually chokes, and Dean has to whack him on the back, only he misses his back and ends up smacking him across the face – which is luckily more hilarious than painful, but it's still pretty freakin' painful, and Sam lets out a surprised shout and falls on his ass.

The excitement is too much for Grace Slick and she yips in joy and pisses all over Sam's shoe.

Sam cleans it up sneakily and doesn't tell Dean.

:::

For the first few weeks, Dean keeps his word, and Sam comes home from work to find puppy shit in almost every room of the house. But he also comes home sometimes to find the puppy snuggled on Dean's lap as he does research on the computer, or watching with vacant, doggy interest as Dean does his push-ups and sit-ups, darting forward now and then to grab his shirt in her teeth and try to pull him down. Dean swears at her and has a bad habit of calling her "Grace Shithead," but Sam catches him smiling when she pushes her nose into his hand and clambers onto his legs.

Then, about three weeks after Sam brings the dog home, he comes back to the apartment and finds both of them gone.

He's panicking just a little bit as he dials Dean's cell, but the panic is mixed with a fierce hope, like he hasn't felt in months, and when Dean answers the phone with a, "Yeah, I'm walking the fucking dog," Sam smacks a hand against the wall in happiness.

"What was that banging noise?"

"Nothing," Sam says, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Where are you?"

"I'm just down the block, she's probably shitting on the sidewalk, I don't know. Not my problem."

"Are you all right?"

"Of course I'm all right."

They've walked the block enough together that Sam trusts that Dean is safe, will call if he can't find his way home for some reason, but he's still inordinately relieved when about fifteen minutes later Dean taps his way through the door, Grace Slick trotting ahead of him, collar jingling.

"Hey," Sam says, and Dean thwacks him in the calf as a hello, pushes past him into the apartment and props his cane up by the armchair, waves his hand around until he finds the wall and then feels his way into the kitchen, Sam trailing after.

"I'm hungry," Dean says, opens the fridge and skims an impatient hand across the shelves. "What's in here?"

"Uh," Sam says, coming to stand behind him. "We have some tomatoes, some broccoli… cheese… eggs… uh…"

"Spaghetti," Dean decides, withdraws from the fridge and executes a careful 90-degree turn towards the counter, feels his way to the cupboards and runs his hands along them 'til he finds the one with the spoon taped to it, takes out a box of pasta. "Sam, you wanna boil some water? I'll cut up some onions?"

"Okay," Sam says, watches Dean grope his way through the fridge before he latches onto the onions and smoothes his hand along the counter top, finds the cutting board.

"Here," Sam says, guides his hand to the hilt of their good knife. Still has a little trouble watching Dean wield the thing.

"Grace, get outta my way," Dean orders, puts out a foot until he finds her, pushes her aside. She slides willingly across the floor.

This isn't a movie, and a puppy is not about to solve anything, and Sam knows this, he knows this. Is reminded all-too-clearly when Dean makes some miscalculation, slices into his index fingerand goes directly from talkative and cheerful into one of his heavy silences, doesn't say a word as Sam spreads antiseptic onto the cut and winds a gauze bandage around it.

But then he gets back up, asks for a knife that's not as sharp, and keeps cutting the onions. And then he slices carrots and broccoli, and there's no more blood, just some pretty fantastic pasta sauce and a dangerously over-indulged Cockapoo. And Sam, and Dean.

Sam knows that somewhere out there, their father is tracking the demon that killed Sam's mother, and his girlfriend, and probably a hundred other mothers and girlfriends.

But he can't help and think that maybe he and Dean are killing some other demons, right here, right now, demons that are just as important and just as dangerous and even darker, in some ways.

And it's a stupid, sappy, hopeful thought – but Sam lets himself think it, because he's been kind of low on those lately.

"Dude," Dean says, one hand sweeping the counter, sloppy with frustration, "where the hell's the cheese?"

"Here," Sam says, grabs his brother's wrist and drags his hand over to the Parmesan.

"Aha – thanks," Dean says, and Sam realizes there's no recrimination anymore when Dean says that.

"You're welcome," Sam says. "Here, sit down, I'll serve."

Dean lets Sam take his shoulder and steer him towards a chair, and he sits down, smiles a little as Grace immediately flops her head on his foot and starts gnawing on his shoelaces. Sam sets a bowl of pasta down in front of him, gently taps his right hand and nudges it towards his beer until it connects with the bottle.

"The beer is three o'clock," Sam says. "Your pasta's six o'clock, fork at about eight o'clock. Cheese is a high noon."

"High noon? What is this, a Western?"

"Hey, hey," Sam says, blocks Dean's hand as it swings towards Sam's beer. "Close call."

"Sam. What would I do without you?"

"Feeling's mutual," Sam replies.

"Shut the fuck up."

END