Three days later

It was amazing how fast three days could pass when something terrible was looming at the end of it. Bobby glanced at his watch, rubbed his fingertip over his brow and stifled a yawn. He hadn't slept much over the last few nights and neither had the boys. Sam was adamant about spending as much time with Dean as he could and Dean, like always, pretended that nothing was wrong. But Bobby could see the worry in his eyes, the fatigue, and, on some level, the despair.

He hated what this all did to Dean, hated the growing sense of indifference the boy was showing, but what could they do? There was no way of finding out if the deal was off or not.

Sam put on a brave face, but he was nervous, fidgety, anxious to the extreme. Not that Bobby blamed him. Sam was able to move around on his own, but was pretty handicapped due to his right hand being as mutilated as it was and his left shoulder causing him some issues as well. But that didn't stop him from trying to do research, from still trying desperately to find a way out for Dean.

This last day had been the weirdest of the three. Neither of the boys had said much. Dean was subdued, awaiting the inevitable with an air of calmness about him that was disturbing. Sam was anxious, unable to sit still despite his injuries, and would probably spend the next couple of days flat on his back once this was over.

Bobby shook his head lightly, grabbed his mug of coffee and trailed into the livingroom in search of a book. In spite of himself, he too was still looking for clues, for any idea on how to at least halt the deal until they knew more. The thought alone that Dean might be dead by the stroke of midnight made him almost as anxious as Sam.

"Have you heard any dogs?" Bobby asked.

Dean didn't look up from the old book he was studying. "Nah," he countered. Rumsfeld lay curled up in his lap, deeply asleep, while Dean kept stroking his hand over the golden fur in a repetitive pattern.

Sam shifted the book he had opened away from his lap onto the couch and muttered something under his breath, then grunted.

A quick glance at the boy told Bobby all he needed to know. He dropped his search for the book he was after, grabbed the syringe and stepped over to Sam. "Pull your sleeve up," he said.

Sam did so without even glancing at him. The paleness of his skin combined with the light sheen of sweat now covering his face was the only indication Sam gave that his right hand was killing him.

"Why the hell won't you tell me when you're hurting, huh?" he asked and gave Sam the injection.

Sam made a face. "Don't have time for that," he muttered and reached for another book before Bobby could pull the needle back out.

"Sit still, dammit," Bobby snapped and instantly regretted it. "Sorry," he added.

"No problem," Sam countered, grabbed the book and opened it.

"What are you reading, Dean?" Bobby asked and glanced at him.

Dean frowned at the book. "Some grimoire," he countered without looking up. "Weird stuff," he added.

"They usually are," Bobby agreed. "What's so interesting about that one?" he wanted to know.

Finally, Dean did look up. "Uh ... I don't know," he admitted. "Just seems like the only way to pass time around here," he added and smirked. "Seeing as you don't have a TV and all."

Bobby had sworn once that he wouldn't waste his time with stuff like that, but right now he felt marginally guilty about it. "Well, if you're still around tomorrow, I might get one," he said.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Wonders will never cease," he teased and returned his attention to the book.

With a sigh, Bobby returned to his search, but stopped short when Dean suddenly hissed. "What?" he asked and turned back to face him. The book Dean had been reading lay forgotten on the arm of the easy chair and Dean's attention was locked on something at the front of the house.

Sam sat up a little straighter and grimaced when the movement hurt, but he was focused on Dean. "What is it, Dean?"

Dean said nothing, just stared toward the hallway. Rumsfeld raised his head, suddenly wide awake. Dean's breathing changed marginally, became more superficial, indicating anxiety. Then Rumsfeld sat up on his lap, his attention locked on whatever Dean was hearing.

Bobby strained his ears, but could not hear anything. Sam's expression was a mixture of concern and suspicion.

Then suddenly, Rumsfeld threw his head back and howled like a miniature wolf. And Bobby had only ever seen a puppy howl in response to an adult dog's howl. And it sent an ice cold shiver down his spine.


Rumsfeld jumped off Dean's lap and raced out into the hallway where he continued to howl mournfully at the front door. Dean pushed out of his chair and followed the dog, unsure of what exactly he had heard. Was Rumsfeld responding to his nervousness or had the puppy actually heard something outside? Dean thought he had heard something, but he wasn't sure what it was.

He pulled the door open and Rumsfeld bounded outside and hurtled down the steps, then came to a skittering halt. Eyes glittered in the darkness just by the gates and a low growl emanated from that general direction. Dean stepped outside and stared at those eyes, the only part of the animal he could see, and he was damned unsure of what exactly he was looking at.

To his immediate amazement, Rumsfeld started growling in response. It wasn't impressive in any way, but still the tiny tod of a pup had decided that Dean needed protection and he was going to offer it no matter what. Whatever the animal standing by the fence was, Dean was not going to sacrifice the puppy to it, so he strode down the steps, picked the growling puppy up in one arm and started stroking his head with the other hand. "It's okay, boy. No need to get so ticked off. It's just another dog," he said quietly while never taking his eyes off the unblinking gaze of the predator by the gate.

Just then, Bobby switched on the outside light and the yard was immediately bathed in bright light, disclosing the creature at the gate to be the biggest damned dog Dean had ever laid eyes on in his entire life. "Holy crap," he muttered and took a careful step back.

Rumsfeld kept growling, the hair on his back standing on edge, as Bobby descended the steps behind Dean. "That's the biggest damned mutt I've ever seen in my life," Bobby said, a little stunned.

Dean frowned, then glanced up at Bobby. "You can see it?" he asked.

Bobby eyed him for a moment, his expression speaking its own clear language. "Of course I can see it," he countered and aimed the shotgun at the dog.

A sudden idea hit Dean and he reached up to push the barrel of the shotgun upwards. "Don't," he said and instead handed Bobby the puppy. "Hold him for a minute," he added.

Bobby took Rumsfeld without a word. Dean took a cautious step forward, his eyes on the big black dog. The animal had growled once, but now it was just standing there, staring at him, its head down, its gaze cautious. "I take it you're not a hell hound, huh, boy?" he asked and hunkered down.

The animal stared at him for a second longer, then took a slow step forward. It's gaze snapped to Bobby, then back to Dean and then it slowly raised its head and straightened its ears. It looked mostly like a mix between a German Shepard and some big, shaggy breed. It was a powerful animal, pitch black, with big, shaggy fur. And it was evident that this critter was malnourished, too.

Slowly, Dean stretched a hand out toward it. "You're not gonna bite me, are you, boy?" he asked it softly.

The dog took another step forward, sniffing the air, then it suddenly turned its head to glance behind it like it was expecting company. The low rumble it emitted made Dean rear back a little before he caught himself. The dog wasn't growling at him, it was growling at something outside the fence.

Dean swallowed, rose and took a cautious step back. The big black dog turned around to face whatever was coming their way, its hackles rising, its ears flattening against its massive head.

She stepped out of the darkness and into the circle of light, her gait self-assured, and she came to a stop at the very border the gate created. Her eyes were on Dean and if it hadn't been for the odd getup of a short evening dress and high-heeled black pumps, she wouldn't have looked out of place at all. "Did you think there was only one of us?" she asked.

The black dog growled darkly at her and she remained where she was, sparing the black dog a somewhat cautious glance.

Dean just stared at her while whatever little hope had been built up over the last few days vanished again. How stupid it had been for him to hope for deliverance when there so clearly could be none. "So, the deal's not off, is it?" he asked.

"Unfortunately, it is," she countered. "Null and void because ... Dawn went native on us." Her expression was anything but happy. "I hope Sammy can live with having killed an innocent woman, though."

"Like you care, you bitch," Dean growled. He didn't believe her, didn't trust this even for a second, but there was definitely something odd going on here. "Bobby, what time is it?"

"Ten to twelve," Bobby countered. He didn't sound at ease at all.

"It is common practice to finish a deal, Dean," the demon said and her eyes flashed red. "Closure is key, wouldn't you say?" she asked and sneered. "And you managed to find the one way you could weasel your way out of this deal without jeopardizing your brother's life. You must be really proud of yourself."

He flinched. "That was Sam's decision. I didn't push him to do anything," he tried.

"No, of course not. Except for your pathetic inability to handle what you had started. How could he do anything else after you sold your soul for him?" the demon countered.

"You're only pissed because I managed to get out of it," he claimed.

"Yes, I admit that," she agreed. "But, don't worry. We'll have plenty of opportunity to get a hold of you yet." She smirked, but then her expression froze as her gaze shifted up the stairs.

"I suggest you turn around and walk away right now."

Dean glanced up at Sam, who stood there, the colt in his left hand aimed at her. "Sam," he started, but Sam ignored him.

"I've killed one of you before. I have no qualms about killing another," Sam said, his tone cold. He had the same kind of look in his eyes as when he had shot Jake a year ago and Dean wasn't entirely happy about that.

The demon raised her borrowed hands and backed up a step. "Easy there, sugar. No need to get nasty," she said and smiled, but it was evident that she was nervous. Sam had proven his evil intent by shooting the first crossroad demon and it was obvious that he wasn't going to abstain from killing another just to save the woman the demon was possessing.

"Leave," he pressed out. "Now!"

She glared at him, then fixed Dean with a sultry look. "We'll get you yet," she promised, turned around and disappeared into the darkness again.

With the incentive to protect his brother gone, Sam let his left arm drop and hunched over. Bobby dropped Rumsfeld and grabbed Sam's left arm. "That was one hell of a show," he said, his tone tentatively hopeful.

"Not a show," Sam ground out and wrapped his left arm over his aching chest.

Rumsfeld pelted down the stairs and began yipping at the black dog still standing there. The older dog seemed vaguely irritated by the puppy, trotted over to one of the car wrecks and jumped up on the roof, where it settled down. Rumsfeld was too small to follow it and bounded around the wreck, yipping with agitation.

Dean watched the black dog. It raised its head and eyed him back, its eyes strangely intelligent. "Rumsfeld. Come here, boy," Dean called and the puppy bounded over to him, back to his playful self. He picked the puppy up and started up the stairs, then paused before entering the house to look back at the big black dog. Just then, the grandfather clock in the livingroom began to chime out the hour. Dean held his breath while counting along until the twelfth stroke had ebbed away and nothing had happened.

"Sam?" he called into the house without taking his eyes off the big black dog.

"What?" Sam called back. He sounded tired.

Dean grinned. "Nothing, dude," he said, set Rumsfeld down again and shooed him into the house before looking back over at the black dog. "Are you gonna be around in the morning?" he asked it.

The dog just eyed him for a moment, then laid its head down on its paws, and all Dean could think of doing was to smile vaguely. The deal was broken and for some reason he had the feeling that this dog, along with Rumsfeld, were here to look out for them. Rumsfeld was one thing, of course. He was an intelligent little guy and Dean had no doubts that he would make a great companion. But the black dog was something else entirely. He couldn't shake the sense of familiarity when he looked into its eyes. "See you in the morning," he said quietly, stepped inside the house and closed the door behind him.

"Is it still out there?" Bobby asked.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. The world looked different to him now. Everything seemed brighter somehow, less cluttered, more cozy. The thing he needed to focus on now was getting Sam through the aftermath of what he had been through to get Dean to this point. And at this point in time, Dean felt he owed his little brother more than his life. He owned him everything. "I say we hit the sack and start afresh tomorrow, huh?" he suggested.

Sam nodded mutely and Dean helped him upstairs to bed. Within half an hour, they had all turned in and Dean just lay there and stared up at the ceiling above him while Rumsfeld yipped in his sleep and jerked a few times.


One week later

For one week Sam was fairly upbeat despite his injuries. When the day came and went where the splint came off and the cast came on, things changed. Not all at once, though.

The change in him was gradual. Without the strong painkiller that knocked him out for a full night, he started to dream again and although he only occasionally woke up from the dreams, Dean was fully aware of them.

It had taken Dean the same amount of time to get over the general shock that the deal was broken and there was no backlash. Sure, the demon had promised retribution, but they always did. He wasn't too worried about that.

What worried him was Sam's slowly degrading mood. He didn't get angry, he withdrew into himself, slowly, steadily, and what few smiles Dean had been able to wrench out of him had disappeared all together. Dawn's legacy had come back to haunt him and Dean wasn't so sure he could drive the ghost out of his brother without ripping open wounds that should have started to heal.

"How's your shoulder?" He eyed Sam closely. The kid had spent a lot of time on Bobby's couch and seemed less and less inclined to get off it.

"Better." It was the one word reply thing that got to Dean on some level. Sam was talkative under normal circumstances, always wanted to discuss things to death, but not any more.

"How's your hand?" Dean knew he had to try and draw Sam out of his shell. Even Dr. Marten had suggested he talk to him as much as possible. Of course, the doc had suggested a shrink too, but Dean wasn't interested in outside help. If he couldn't get Sam to lighten up, then nobody could.

Sam glanced at him, a light frown furrowing his brow. "In a cast," he said and held it up for Dean to see.

"That's informative. Does it hurt?" Dean wasn't going to relent. He needed Sam to talk to him, to open up about what was going through his head. And he would have to make Sam talk without taunting his brother. Usually, the easiest way to get a rise out of Sam was to push his buttons, but Dean had the feeling that any derisiveness would only drive Sam further into his shell.

"A bit." Sam returned his attention to the book he had been staring at for the past half hour and continued to stare at the same page.

Dean sighed. "What are you reading?" The deal might be off and he might be safe for the time being, but that still didn't change the situation that Sam had almost literally gone to Hell for him.

"I'm not." Sam shut the book and put it aside, then continued to stare ahead of himself.

A quick glance at the grandfather clock made Dean frown. Not even noon yet and they were making no progress at all. Bobby was off somewhere, helping a friend with something, which left them alone for the next two days.

Rumsfeld was lying stretched out on the floor, dead to the world after having annoyed the hell out of Black ever since they got up. The big black dog was lying on the floor just inside the door to the hallway, seemingly asleep. Dean had never seen a dog more alert, though. It took the slightest jitter in either of them to stir him awake.

"Must have been an interesting page," he said and looked back over at his brother.

Sam shrugged halfheartedly. He didn't use his left shoulder too much, which was both good and bad. In Dean's opinion he needed to train it to get it back to normal, but so far Sam had refused to do anything to better his condition. The doc had said he should try and move his fingers on his right hand as much as possible, even if it hurt, but so far Dean hadn't seen him even try. Okay, so it had only been two days since the splint had come off and the cast had been put on, but Sam would normally have been using his hand by now despite the pain.

"Sam ... talk to me." He watched Sam intently, waiting for a response, a reaction, anything other than this depression Sam seemed to be sinking into.

"I am," Sam countered indifferently.

"The hell you are. Could you please say more than two words in a row? What's on your mind?" Dean tried, not sure he could actually force Sam to talk about his ordeal. But he knew Sam better than Sam thought. He knew that Sam needed to talk, needed to get it out. And if the kid needed to throw a temper tantrum to get it done, Dean was okay with that. As long as he got it out of his system and got back to normal.

Sam gave him a dark look, then shrugged again. "Nothing," he claimed.

"Don't pull that crap on me, Sam. I know you. Your mind's working a mile a minute. You never stop thinking." In spite of all his good intentions, Dean was getting angry. Not so much at Sam in general as at the situation that was changing his brother's behavior so much, he barely recognized him. "Talk to me!" he pressed.

For a long, silent moment all Sam did was stare at him. Then he swallowed hard and dropped his gaze to his hands. He started picking idly at the edge of the cast and for the first time flexed his fingers lightly, then grimaced.

"Sam!" Dean warned. "Talk to me!" he insisted.

Sam drew in a deep breath and made a face with a hiss before exhaling slowly. That rib was still causing him trouble. "I thought I was over it," he finally muttered.

"You're far from over it, dude," Dean said, leaned forward and propped his elbows on his thighs while folding his hands in front of him. "Something like that doesn't go away over night."

"I know that," Sam grumbled while still picking idly at his cast. "I just thought ... with everything else going on ... and ... the deal being broken ... that I could move on. But ... I can't stop ..." He trailed off, a dark look in his eyes. "I shot her, Dean. Right in the head. And she didn't see it coming. And all I could think was ... good riddance."

"So?" That was what he would have thought too. "She hurt you, man. Badly. She ... degraded you. Of course you would think that."

"Would I?" Sam asked and looked up to meet his eyes. "I shot an innocent woman, Dean. I ... practically raped her."

Dean had been gearing up for the big finish, had intended to tell Sam a little bit about what he thought of this whole thing, but that one stumped him. "What?" He stared at his brother, for a second completely incapable of following his line of thinking. "Are you nuts? The demon possessing her did that to you, not the other way around, Sam. At least that's what I thought. So, am I wrong?"

Sam dropped his gaze. "No, but ... I should have stopped her. I should have ..."

"Nothing, Sam. That's what you should have done. You couldn't save her. Hell, for all we know, she wasn't even there any more. Maybe Dawn or whatever the hell her name was drove her out, killed her the first moment she possessed her. And if not ... dude ... you set her free. You rid her of the possession. You didn't rape her."

Sam didn't look convinced and Dean felt like shaking him to get his point across. "Doesn't change the fact that she's dead and that I killed her," he muttered.

Dean had to restrain himself to not lose his temper completely. Black raised his head and eyed him, then rose and patted over to him. The big black dog laid his head on Dean's knee and just stood there. Rumsfeld chose that moment to wake up and joined Black by dropping down on Dean's feet and whining a little. Dean eyed the two dogs for a moment and realized that they were diverting his attention away from Sam and thereby defusing his anger. "You didn't kill her. You killed the demon that killed her," he finally said, his tone much calmer than he had intended it to be. "Sam, look at me," he insisted and Sam did, albeit a little crookedly. "Look, dude, I know you're messed up by what happened and I don't blame you. Not one bit. Nobody would." He sighed deeply. "Would you feel better ... if you got to talk to a ... professional?"

Black raised his head and eyed Dean as if the dog understood what Dean was trying to say. He growled softly, then glanced over at Sam for a moment before he walked over to the couch, jumped up on it, laid down and put his head in Sam's lap. Sam stared down at the dog for a moment, then glanced up at Dean, his expression a little concerned.

Dean smirked. "Looks like you got a new friend there," he said, picked up Rumsfeld and placed the puppy on his lap.

A little confused, Sam almost gingerly placed his left hand on the big dog's head. The dog didn't stir. "I get the feeling that he understands us," he said and met Dean's eyes.

"So does Rumsfeld here," Dean countered and scratched the puppy behind one ear. "Stupid name, by the way. Where the hell did Bobby get it from anyway?"

"Donald Rumsfeld?" Sam asked and eyed the puppy critically. "But ..." He shrugged lightly. "I got nothing," he added.

Dean shifted his attention to Black. He had named the dog in his head, but hadn't really gotten around to sharing that bit of information. Bobby was more partial to Black than Rumsfeld. He had stated that Black was likely to be a good guard dog. "What about him? He needs a name," he said.

Sam, whose hand was still resting on the black dog's head, looked down at him and frowned. "Well ... he's black," he said and glanced at Dean. "We could call him Blacky."

"It's better than King or whatever else people normally name their dogs," Dean agreed. "And it kinda suits him, don't you think?"

"Well ... he's black," Sam repeated and gave Dean a look that gave him hope for the future.

"You're getting a tad repetitive there, dude," he countered and smiled vaguely when Sam rolled his eyes. He picked Rumsfeld up and cuddled him to his chest. "Do you know what an icebreaker this guy is gonna be for me? Chicks go all gooey over puppies," he added.

Sam just stared at him for a moment and then the faintest of smiles tugged at the corners of his lips. Dean pretended not to notice and kept stroking Rumsfeld, who was twisting in his grip to get to his face. "Dean?"

Dean focused on Sam. "What?" he asked and pulled his head back a bit when Rumsfeld got in a good lick on his chin. "Hey, cut that out," he muttered, which did nothing to deter the puppy.

"Do me a favor," Sam said. Something in his expression had changed. He looked calmer somehow, more at ease.

"Sure," Dean said with a smirk.

"Don't ever change," Sam said and finally managed a real smile. Blacky rumbled, shifted onto his side and closed his eyes. Sam stroked the black dog's head for a second, then looked up again to meet Dean's eyes. "I mean it. Don't ever change."

Dean grinned. "Not a chance, little bro," he promised. He knew Sam still had a ways to go, but he was definitely on the mend. With the deal off and Sam doing better ... well, life just couldn't get much better than this.

The End