Summary: AU tag to 6x22 – Seizure Sam, Big Brother Dean, Awesome Bobby – Maybe Bobby had been right; maybe this dog was exactly what they needed.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Usual language and spoilers for Season Six finale.
I do not like dogs, because they bark when there is no occasion for it; but I have liked this one from the beginning...because he never barks except when there is occasion... ~ Mark Twain, "The Death of Jean"
"House rules for you are the same as for the boys. And I only got three of 'em, so listen up..." Bobby was saying when Dean opened the upstairs bathroom door, causing the oldest Winchester to freeze in the doorway as wisps of steam swirled in the rush of air.
Dean narrowed his eyes. Who the hell was Bobby talking to downstairs? Had someone arrived while he was in the shower, or was Bobby on the phone...or what?
"...come when you're called."
Dean switched off the bathroom light and entered his and Sam's room; glancing at his brother – who seemed to be sleeping peacefully – before quickly stuffing his kit and wadded sleep clothes into the top drawer of the dresser and padding down the hall in his sock-clad feet.
"Or at least acknowledge me in some way so I know you're not sick, injured, or dead," Bobby clarified, his voice clearer now that Dean was standing at the top of the stairs. And since Bobby was not talking as loudly as he usually did when he was on the phone, it was a safe bet that whoever the older hunter was conversing with was in the kitchen with him.
There was the creak of a cabinet door opening followed by the hollow scuffing of a mug being removed from the shelf before the cabinet banged shut.
Dean tilted his head. Only one mug? Was Bobby not feeling hospitable this morning, or did he already know that whoever he was talking to did not drink coffee?
The coffee pot clanked against the side of the mug, providing the perfect cover for Dean to ease down the top two steps, which always groaned like a bitch no matter how light-footed he tried to be.
"...don't be touchin' my stuff unless you ask first or I give you permission. What looks like a mess is actually a highly specialized filing system, and I don't need you 'helping me' by screwing it up."
Dean quirked a smile as he tiptoed down three more steps, remembering the day – at least five or six years ago – he and Sam surprised Bobby by cleaning the study and alphabetizing all the hunter's old books. Bobby had bitched at them for days afterwards and apparently even now was still not completely over it.
Dean shook his head good-naturedly and then felt his smile waver at the reality of what was happening. Because if whoever Bobby was talking to was getting a rundown of the house rules, that meant he – possibly she, but probably not – was going to be staying more than just a couple of days. And even though it was Bobby's house, it had become Dean and Sam's home – especially over the past few months – and Dean did not want to share it with an outsider.
If he was honest with himself, Dean did not want to share Bobby, either. And he sure as hell was not sharing Sam. Until Dean knew more about whoever this was, he – or she – would be lucky to even catch a glimpse of his brother, much less be in the same room with Sam.
Dean felt a sudden surge of protectiveness mixed with a twinge of anger and betrayal. How could Bobby even think about bringing in somebody new to the household now? Three weeks post Operation Cluster Fuck – Sam's wall crumbling, purgatory being opened, and Cas becoming a self-proclaimed god – and Bobby thought it was a good idea to invite a houseguest? Seriously?
Dean blinked at the sound of Bobby's voice and descended two more steps; now more than halfway down the stairs and resisting the urge to barge into the kitchen; to demand just what the fuck was going on and why was he not consulted before bringing in a stranger?
Dean closed his eyes briefly, willing himself to calm down.
"...and this one doesn't apply to you. But neither did Rule #2, so I'm still gonna say it."
Dean opened his eyes and glared. Who the hell was this person that he – or more logically now, she – was already receiving special treatment? What about the special treatment Sam required these days? Had Bobby suddenly forgotten that Sam was still fragile? That the one doctor they had taken Sam to – only because the man was a friend of a hunter – had been stumped, had been literally speechless about how to help Sam? Did Bobby fail to remember that all the medications Sam had tried over the past few weeks had been useless? That the kid still suffered at least three or four seizures a day, plus had to endure nightmares, flashbacks, and personality shifts?
Dean clenched his jaw, feeling more pissed by the second. Because Sam was his priority; always had been; always would be, especially now. And he thought that Bobby had not only understood but had also agreed; that the older hunter had been onboard with retiring from hunting – at least for now – so they could focus on Sam.
But apparently Bobby had wanted to retire from hunting so he could focus on opening a fucking boarding house.
"Rule #3 is that you replace the toilet paper roll when it runs out," Bobby was telling whoever was with him in the kitchen as Dean went down three more steps. "It takes less than five seconds and keeps me from ending up in a tricky situation."
Hearing movement back up in their room, Dean glanced over his shoulder; attention instantly refocused as he listened intently for any warning that Sam was doing anything more than just rolling over in bed. When several seconds passed and there was no other noise, Dean slowly exhaled and turned his attention back downstairs.
"But like I said..." Bobby reminded whoever he was talking to. "...that doesn't apply to you."
Dean rolled his eyes. Of course it didn't. And neither did Rule #2.
There was silence, and Dean shook his head. He hated this new person already. If this pampered asshole could not be bothered to ask permission to use Bobby's stuff or to replace a roll of fucking toilet paper, what else could he – or she – not be bothered with? If Sam was having a seizure, could he – or she or whoever the fuck this person was – be bothered to tell them, to come get Dean? Not that this person would be allowed around Sam, but still...
Bobby had stopped talking, and Dean's foot hovered over the last step as he listened intently, trying to hear the movement of another person in the kitchen. But there was nothing to be heard besides the familiar shuffle of Bobby as he puttered around the small space between the table, the fridge, and the counter.
Dean shrugged – because experience had taught him that silence was easy to misjudge – and then cleared the bottom step, fully prepared to make his grand entrance into the kitchen when Bobby's voice stopped him for the second time that morning.
"So, those are my rules," and the way his lips smacked before he said the words indicated that Bobby had just sipped his coffee. "But I can assure you Dean's list will be much longer and a bigger pain in your ass than mine."
Dean arched an eyebrow, crossing from the stairs to the hallway; his socks allowing a silent approach.
"And from me to you..." Bobby confided, his voice becoming quieter. "...the best tip I can give is to stay on Dean's good side, at least until he gets to know you a little better."
Dean nodded – it was good advice – and stood just beyond the edge of the kitchen's doorway.
"Dean's the one to please here, not me," Bobby reminded, a chair scraping across the wooden floor as he pulled it back from the table and sat. "I'm already on your side. And Sam's gonna love you, 'cause that's just how he is. Even after all that's happened, that kid has still got the biggest heart of anyone you will ever meet."
Bobby paused, and Dean felt warmth spread through his chest at the enormity of that truth. Because the older hunter was right; even after everything, most of the time, Sam was still Sammy – his Sammy – and whoever Bobby was talking to had better not forget it.
As if picking up on Dean's thought, Bobby suddenly added, "And I know you've got a job to do and have been trained to do it. But for god's sake, don't do anything Dean could perceive as potentially threatening to Sam. Because like I already told you on the ride over, Dean's a little overprotective these days, and Sam's..."
Bobby sighed, seemingly at a loss for how to describe the youngest Winchester, even as Dean's mind simultaneously answered mine and off limits.
Dean held his breath, waiting to see how Bobby would finish his statement – if he would finish – and was startled by the sudden realization that whoever Bobby was talking to never talked in return or asked questions; a characteristic that automatically eliminated women, children, and most hunters that Dean knew.
And Bobby just said "on the ride over," which meant...what? That Bobby had gone to pick up whoever this was in the time it had taken Dean to shower?
Dean frowned, freshly confused by this entire situation and still not hearing any sounds of movement to indicate Bobby had company in the kitchen.
Bobby cleared his throat – one of the few nervous habits he had – and shifted in his chair. "Sam's been through a lot," he finally stated, seeming to choose his words carefully. "But after everything he's been through in his life, I think that wall coming down was the worst."
Dean clenched his jaw, feeling the earlier mix of anger and betrayal return. How dare Bobby discuss Sam with this stranger?
"The memories and nightmares are bad enough," Bobby continued. "But I have to tell you, it's the seizures that worry me the most." He paused. "But I guess that's what you're here for, right?" he asked, his tone cheerful even as he sighed.
And Dean seethed. What the fuck was going on? Had Bobby hired a seizure whisperer or something?
There was a beat of silence before Bobby sighed again. Only this time it was not the sigh of man who was worried about a kid he loved; it was the sigh of a hunter who was tired of playing games and realized a fellow hunter had reached his own breaking point.
"Dean..." Bobby called, his tone implying that he had known the oldest Winchester was there all along, creeping down the stairs and eavesdropping. And that he had not only allowed it but had welcomed it – had maybe even orchestrated it somehow – as an indirect introduction to whoever was in the kitchen; as a less awkward way to confess how worried he was about their youngest; and as a preemptive apology for what he had done.
Feeling stunned – too many emotions and thoughts to process at one time – Dean stood motionless in the hall; marginally calmer than he was seconds before but still confused and pissed.
Because seriously...what the fuck was going on?
"You gonna join us?" Bobby asked from the other side of the wall, though it was not a question.
And although he knew he could not stand in the hall indefinitely, Dean made no response.
Dean sighed, consciously getting his shit in one bag and then rearranging his expression to reflect the appearance of an indifferent badass – one of his favorites to portray during first impressions – and rounded the corner, entering the kitchen to finally meet...
Dean blinked, coming to a halt as his eyes darted from the huge lump of black fur lying on the rug in front of the stove to Bobby sitting at the table. "What the hell is that?" he demanded, resisting the urge to point at what he least expected to see.
"A dog," Bobby replied flatly as he took another sip of his coffee.
"I can see that," Dean recovered coolly, staring at the relatively large black dog; its well-muscled body, broad, chiseled head, and moderately close hanging ears indicating its breed – Labrador. "But what the hell, Bobby?"
The older hunter stared at him blankly. "What?"
Dean made a guttural sound of frustration. "We don't have enough shit to deal with, so you decide to get a pet?"
"He's not a pet, you damned idjit," Bobby snapped as the dog lifted his head as though offended by being labeled as such.
Dean snorted. "Then what the hell is he?"
Bobby sighed – as parents often do with worked up children – and leaned forward to slide a pamphlet closer to the table's edge.
Dean's gaze lingered on the dog, then Bobby, before glancing down to the glossy tri-folded paper.
Canine Partners for Life: Seizure Alert Dog Program
Dean felt the frustration and anger dissipate as quickly as they came and sank into the chair opposite Bobby.
There was silence as Bobby leaned back in his chair and watched the oldest Winchester leaf through the pamphlet.
Dean's eyes swept over the narrow pages, instantly recalling how he and Bobby had spent hours on the Internet one night during that first week after the wall had tumbled; how Sam had slept nearby on the couch while he and Bobby had huddled together, squinting in the harsh light of the monitor; desperately trying to find something – besides more worthless doctors and useless medications – that would help Sam and had come across a website about seizure alert dogs.
Dean and Bobby had simultaneously looked at each other – both knowing Sam loved dogs, had often begged for one as a child – and had continued their research, sensing an answer as one link had led to another. By dawn, they had watched several videos; had read numerous testimonials; and had scrolled through dozens of photos, each click of the mouse bringing them a little closer to a possible solution, to a glimmer of hope.
Dean sighed and tossed the pamphlet back on the table.
Bobby frowned. "What?"
Dean shook his head disgustedly.
Bobby's frown deepened. "What?" he repeated. "Don't you remember how we thought this would be the perfect fit for Sam?"
"Oh yeah, I remember," Dean affirmed, his tone overly casual. "I just hadn't thought about it again, since we don't have six to 18 months to spend on a waiting list. Not to mention the $20,000 it takes to get a dog like that."
Dean stared meaningfully at the older hunter.
Understanding lit in Bobby's eyes, and he chuckled. "No, we don't," he agreed. "But I called in a few favors, and it turns out a friend of a friend's cousin's nephew's wife..." Bobby shook his head; communicating the complicated intricacies of tracking down the right person "...works for that Canine Partners group up in Pennsylvania. So, I gave her a call – real sweet girl, her uncle used to be a hunter – and vaguely explained our situation. And – "
"And she sent black rover right over?" Dean interrupted, his eyes darting over to the dog that still had not moved from the rug.
Bobby paused and then nodded. "Something like that."
Dean cut his eyes at Bobby, knowing there was more to the story – there always was – but also knowing the older hunter would never reveal the rest.
Dean sighed, leaning back in his chair. "So now what?"
Bobby snorted as though Dean had asked the most obvious question. "We introduce him to Sam."
Dean shook his head.
Bobby narrowed his eyes. "Don't shake your head at me, boy. I went through a lot to get this dog, and – "
"You should have discussed it with me first, Bobby," Dean snapped. "Sam's my brother."
"No one's arguin' that point," Bobby placated, freshly reminded of Dean's hair-trigger response these days to anything pertaining to Sam. "And we did discuss it."
Dean made a sound of annoyance. "When? A Google search one night three or four weeks ago is not a discussion, Bobby."
Bobby rolled his eyes. Why was everything – absolutely everything – a battle when dealing with Winchesters? "What did you want, Dean? A damned PowerPoint presentation?"
"I want what's best for Sam!"
"So do I!"
There was silence, both hunters staring down each other from across the table until the dog yawned loudly – almost a high-pitched whine – and then sighed, its eyes never leaving the kitchen's doorway.
Dean's attention flickered to the black animal sprawled on the kitchen floor. "Are we boring you?" he asked sarcastically.
The dog did not acknowledge him.
Dean's attention darted back to Bobby. "Is he deaf?" he asked seriously.
Bobby chuckled. "No. He's ignoring you."
"Nice." Dean glanced back at the dog. "Did you miss the part about staying on my good side?"
Bobby chuckled again. Dean talking to the dog like it was a person was certainly a step in the right direction. "I wouldn't take it personally, Dean. He's been trained to only have eyes and ears for Sam, to constantly be on alert for your brother."
Dean nodded. He could relate.
"So he's not really ignoring you and me," Bobby continued, "as much as he's just waiting for Sam."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "How does he know I'm not Sam?"
"He just knows," Bobby answered simply and noticed Dean's second nod of approval, another step in the right direction. Bobby leaned forward, setting his mug on the table. "I sent off a few of Sam's things to Pennsylvania, so the dog could learn his scent. And then I think the trainers called Sam's phone at night – when I told them he would have it off – and let the dog listen to Sam's voice on the voicemail. You know, things like that..."
"Huh," Dean mused, staring at the dog and then shaking his head. "I still don't see how Blackie here is gonna do anything for Sam that I'm not already doing."
Bobby sighed. Two steps forward, three steps back. "He can sense when Sam is about to have a seizure."
"So can I," Dean retorted, looking simultaneously insulted and hurt.
"I know," Bobby agreed. "But Dean..." He paused, softening his tone. "You're not always 100% accurate."
Dean said nothing, an unidentifiable expression crossing his face before he looked away; swallowing hard as he remembered last Tuesday, when Sam had gone from fine to floundering with no warning; had been smiling and talking and laughing and then had just dropped to the floor in a full-on grand mal.
Dean swallowed again, slowing exhaling as he reined in his emotions. "He doesn't always show signs," he defended quietly, still not looking at Bobby.
"I know," Bobby agreed again, his heart freshly breaking for his boys. "But this dog doesn't look for signs. He picks up on a scent – some kind of chemical change that happens before a seizure – and he knows when Sam is going to have one even before Sam does."
There was silence.
Dean sighed, his gaze slowly meeting the older hunter's. "I don't know, Bobby," he admitted. "I just..." He shook his head. "I don't know."
Bobby nodded, understanding Dean always had trouble accepting help with Sam – always convinced the job solely belonged to him – and this was no different. For Dean, the idea of a service dog was easier to accept than the sudden reality, and Bobby got that.
"Dean..." Bobby called, his tone surprisingly gentle as he stared across the table. "Sam is ours, and we love him. And because we love him, we do our best to protect him and keep him safe. But son..." Bobby hesitated; always briefly reminded of the time Dean had coldly told him he was not his son. "...we need help. We've been getting by alright these past few weeks, but Sam ain't gettin' any better." He paused, seeing Dean's jaw clench as moisture suddenly rimmed the younger man's eyes. "What's done is done, Dean, and we both know that wall ain't comin' back. So we gotta move on and adjust and think about what's best for Sam. And this dog is what's best. He's gonna help us do our job better." Bobby paused again, putting a harder edge into his voice. "And if you would stop being a giant pain in my ass, you'd realize that."
Dean held Bobby's gaze, feeling overwhelmed and confused and pissed because he hated the helplessness either emotion caused. But he knew Bobby was right; they did need help with Sam. Sam was himself most of the time – thanks to the kid's own stubborn determination to be nothing else – and when he wasn't, Dean could usually pick up on the subtle differences and respond accordingly. But sometimes – like last Tuesday – even Dean wasn't quick enough to break Sam's fall; and that was unacceptable.
Dean sighed. "Fine."
Bobby arched an eyebrow. "Fine?"
"Fine," Dean repeated. "We'll give Lassie here a whirl. But if something happens to Sam on Rin Tin Tin's watch..."
Dean didn't finish his warning, and he didn't have to; Bobby knew without having to hear it.
"Relax," Bobby advised as he stood, grimacing when his left knee popped. "Everything will be fine," he assured, taking his mug over to the sink and hoping that, for once in their lives, everything would be fine.
"Well, Petey here better hope so," Dean replied, eyeing the dog who was now eyeing him. "Yeah, I'm talking to you."
Bobby chuckled and leaned against the counter. "As a Lab, I think he resents being called the names of a Collie, German Shepard, and Pit Bull."
"Fair enough," Dean allowed. "What should I call him?"
Bobby shrugged. "Beats me."
Dean frowned. "You mean you don't know the dog's name?"
"I mean he ain't got one," Bobby clarified. "Sam's gonna have to name him. It's part of the whole bonding process."
"Oh great." Dean rolled his eyes. "This dog's gonna end up with a Disney princess name or something."
Bobby laughed and shook his head as he pushed away from the counter and headed toward the back door. "Maybe not."
Dean tracked the older hunter's movement. "Where are you going?"
"Out," Bobby answered simply. "Got stuff to do in the garage."
"So, you're just gonna leave me here with this dog?"
Bobby glanced over his shoulder, looking far too pleased with himself. "He won't bite, Dean."
Dean scowled. "I'm not afraid of him, Bobby. But what the hell am I supposed to do with him? You convince me to keep a dog with no name and then leave?"
"You'll figure it out," Bobby assured, opening the back door and disappearing into the yard.
Dean snorted and shook his head. "Unbelievable," he muttered, shifting in the chair and glancing back at the dog, who was once again ignoring him. "Hey..."
The dog didn't even flinch.
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Dude, I'm talking to you."
The dog sighed and cut his eyes in Dean's direction. Yeah?
Dean arched an eyebrow, surprised a dog could give attitude with just a look. "Don't waste your time, dog. I'm immune to bitchface," Dean informed. "And while we're at it, let's get something else straight."
The dog lifted his head. Alright, fine. His ears shifted forward. Let's hear it.
Dean paused; a little startled that he was having a conversation with a dog and that he genuinely thought the dog was not only understanding him but responding in his own way.
The dog blinked. Well?
Dean smiled; unexpectedly amused by the dog's expressive face and feeling some of his own resentment dissipate because of it. He sighed. "Okay, listen...I like you more than I did five minutes ago, but I still don't want you here. Sam has always been my responsibility, and I feel like you're here to do my job. And I hate that. And I know you don't like me for the same reason, because you think I'll interfere with your job. But guess what?" Dean leaned forward, forearms resting on his knees as he stared into the dog's brown eyes. "We're both gonna have to suck it up and work together to watch out for Sammy." Dean paused, realizing the truth of his own words. Because at the end of the day, it wasn't about him or this dog; it was about Sam. "Deal?"
The dog stared at him for a few seconds before getting to his feet and crossing to Dean.
Dean straightened, his eyes widening slightly – a bit unnerved since this was the first time the dog had moved – and watched as the canine sat directly in front of him and placed his massive front paw on Dean's knee.
Dean heard it as clearly as if the dog had actually spoken it, and he smiled before nodding; relaxing a little more because this felt so natural.
Maybe Bobby had been right; maybe this dog was exactly what they needed.