The Hound of the Winchesters
Author: Lycanthrophile (
Fandom: Supernatural
Originally Posted: June 16, 2008
Spoilers: All episodes up to 3x08 "A Very Supernatural Christmas"
Disclaimer: All hail Kripke! Supernatural belong to Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. and Wonderland Sound and Vision. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: PG13 for language
Summary: Dean and Sam end up with a new pet. Sequel to Best Laid Plans
Word Count: 9,708
Notes: Alternate Universe after 3x08 - A Very Supernatural Christmas. Many thanks to mos_self and faelescaloris for the wicked betas!
Archive: Please inform me

The sun was just setting as the sleek, black muscle car pulled up to the pump. With all the talk of gas conservation and hybrids, it was rare for Billy to see a ‘67 Impala, and rarer still to see one in such good condition. Someone obviously put a lot of hours into maintaining the deep rumble of the engine and the gloss of the paint.

Billy watched the young driver get out and start to pump gas, then gave a friendly nod when the man stepped into the store, but touched the loaded rifle hidden underneath the counter just in case. Times were more violent than they used to be, and it paid to be a little cautious. The tall, brown-haired customer grabbed a bag of chips, nuked a Grab ‘N’ Go burger in the microwave, and poured a large cup of coffee (adding in a large amount of the flavored creamer that the account rep assured him customers would love, but nobody seemed to buy). The customer paid for it all with several well worn twenties (which he tested - they were real). “Anything else I can get you?” Billy asked.

“Yeah,” the dark-haired man said, “Can you tell me how far it is to Forest Hill?”

“About two hours down the road,” Billy answered. Another reporter passing through searching for the scoop on the bloody business at old man Cooper’s cabin. The young man thanked him and went back to the car. Good kid, he thought, and scratched his fingers through the salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin as he watched him drive off. Nice and polite, unlike some of the vultures that came through to gawk. Too bad he was nuttier than a fruitcake, Billy thought. It looked like he had had an animated conversation with nobody the whole time he was pumping gas.

The Impala appeared perfectly normal as it rumbled through the night. Slouched in his seat, Dean watched Sam. Six months after the fateful night at the crossroads they had settled into a new routine of hunting. Some things had changed, such as the fact that Dean was a spirit. But some things stayed the same, like hunting. Their last hunt had finished a short time ago when they put another angry spirit to rest.

Dean shifted gingerly on the seat. Sam caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. “Ribs bothering you?”

“I’ll be okay,” Dean grunted. An unexpected bonus had been that Dean could physically interact with the entities they combatted. The downside was that he got beaten up even more than when he had been alive. The last poltergeist had wrapped itself around him and squeezed hard before Sam had finished placing the pouches of protective herbs in the four corners of the house, just like Missouri had shown them. But Dean wasn’t concerned. It didn’t take as long for him to recover as a ghost than he had as a human. He didn’t sleep anymore, but rather fell into a meditative state, which seemed to aid his healing. By the time they arrived at their next job, he should be back to full strength. “So what have we got?” he asked, eager to get to the next job.

Sam stared out the windshield as he repeated the bare facts that he had dug up so far. “Several mauling deaths have been reported in and around Forrest Hill. Latest one was at a cabin on the edge of a heavily wooded area, but there’s no sign of any big predator like a bear or cougar.”

Dean shrugged, wincing slightly. “So it could be anything. A werewolf for example.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth drooped slightly. Dean wondered if Sam would ever lose that look of pain when he heard someone say the word werewolf. Even though he had only known Madison a short time, her loss cut him almost as deeply as Jess’, most likely because she was someone else he had failed to save. The expression lasted for a fleeting moment before Sam put on his game face again. “Nope. Lunar cycle’s wrong. Could be a shapeshifter, though. Or a wendigo. Or a black dog.”

“Or a hellhound.” Dean spoke very quietly. There were few supernatural things that Dean was worried about now. But hellhounds ranked high on that short list. It should have been comforting that although he heard their eerie howling on the hunt on occasion, the sound seemed to be moving away from, instead of towards, him. But it also made him wonder if someone was keeping them away. And if he was looking at that someone.

Sam shrugged, clearly not concerned about the possibility that the demonic beasts with orders to drag his brother to Hell could be involved. “If it is, we’ll deal.”

“Deal how?” Dean twisted slightly to look at his brother. “More of your freaky mind mojo?”

An annoyed tone crept into Sam’s voice. “Dean, I’m not going to let you get dragged into to Hell.”

“How?” Dean gave him a suspicious look. “Using the demon powers old Yellow Eyes gave you?”

“What do you want me to do, Dean?” Sam asked in an exasperated tone. “ Hide you behind a ring of salt forever?”

“No! But you can’t keep using that power.” Dean shook his head. “Today it’s keeping the hellhounds off my ass. Tomorrow, it might be keeping a reaper away from Bobby while he’s having a heart attack. And the day after, ordering a demon army to invade Hell because you slipped up and I got snatched while you were distracted by the reaper.”

Sam shook his head. “That’s not possible, Dean. You can’t stop a reaper that’s there naturally--”

“Bullshit, Sam! You know that’s not true,” Dean snapped. “Or else Dad wouldn’t have made his deal.”

Sam shot Dean an angry look, but stayed silent.

“We know I’m not supposed to be here, Sam,” Dean continued. He sometimes thought that Sam was going to be a lawyer not out of a sense of justice, or wanting to protect the innocent like he did as a hunter. Sam just liked to argue, just like he was now. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go to Hell. But you can’t keep me with you forever.”

Sam glare shifted to the road and his grip tightened on the wheel.

Dean also stared at the passing road, tired of the debate that never would be resolved. All their hunts, no matter what they were after, eventually dredged up what Sam had done to save his brother. In theory, Dean didn’t mind Sam’s determination to keep him away from Hell. The problem was how Sam intended to keep him safe and sound. Tapping into the powers of the demon blood Azazel had gifted Sam with was dangerous, and was the first step on a slippery slope as far as Dean was concerned. And Bobby agreed, warning Sam that each time he used his gift, he was losing another piece of his humanity.

“Look,” Sam said, interrupting Dean’s thoughts. “Let’s get to the cabin and see what we’re dealing with.”

Dean winced at each rut that sent the car’s shocks complaining as they bounced over the dirt road. He hated to imagine what they must be doing to Baby’s suspension. The relief he felt as they pulled up to the cabin was more for the car than for him. “This the place?” he asked as they got out of the car.

It wasn’t a question he needed to ask. The exterior had a weathered appearance. It had been kept up at one time, but the patches on the roof were just a little less faded than the original shingles. It could have been any rustic cabin in the woods, except for one small difference that marked it as their destination. Dean wondered why the cops bothered with crime scene tape blocking the door since the closest neighbor was twenty miles through thick woods.

“Yeah,” Sam said, opening the door. He ducked under the tape, not an easy feat for a man over six foot tall. Dean copied the move out of habit, and then stopped. With a smirk, he passed through the tape and looked around inside.

It wasn’t a large cabin to begin with, and appeared even smaller because of the jumble of wreckage littering it. Sam moved his flashlight to examine all four walls of the one room. Overturned furniture, shredded cushions and slashed curtains, papers, and several dark stains that looked like blood marred on the bare wood floor. “Something tore through here.”

“Yeah, and there’s a ring of salt here, too.” Dean circled around a wide circumference, unable to cross over the white line to explore inside.

Sam crossed the ring and then raised Dean’s sawn-off shot gun when he saw movement in a shadowy corner. “We’re not alone.”

“No shit!” Dean stared at the form that had wedged itself under the desk. He recognized it immediately - the yellow, bloodshot eyes, the foxfire-tinged fur, and the overgrown fangs. “What are you waiting for? Waste it, Sam!”

It looked at Dean and growled. “No,” Sam snapped. The hellhound raised his head, staring at them with ears back, but didn’t make a move forward. Sam took a deep breath. “Come here,” he ordered. The hellhound bellied out and then rose to its paws, not putting any weight on its left hind leg as it limped to Sam reluctantly. It was still keeping a wary eye on Dean, lips curled to reveal fangs. “Stop that,” Sam commanded. “You don’t hurt us and we won’t hurt you.”

“Speak for yourself, Sammy” Dean muttered as the hellhound cowered at his brother’s feet. And then he realized what Sam was saying. Sam could see it. Hellhounds were only supposed to be visible to their prey and, of course, other demons. “How can you see it?”

Sam glared at Dean before kneeling beside the hellhound. “I just can. Maybe it has something to do with me taking control of the pack at the crossroads.” He turned his attention back to the prone demon-dog. “I think he’s hurt.”

Dean’s brows knit. “How are you sure it’s a he... wait, I don’t want to know.”

At a nudge from Sam’s foot, the hellhound rolled on its side, revealing a nasty wound on his flank. Putting down the shot gun, he pulled out a sliver-bladed knife. “Stay,” he ordered the hellhound.

Dean watched as Sam cut a bullet out of the wound, wondering what the hell his brother was doing. And despite himself, curious what could be causing the hellhound enough pain to submit to his brother without a fight.

“Consecrated silver?”

Sam shook his head, absentmindedly reaching down to rub the exposed belly. “Cold iron slug.” He abruptly pulled his hand away, realizing he was stroking the tangled fur.

“Cold iron? Then the guy knew his stuff, for all the good it did him.” The victim could have been another hunter, one of the many that Dean and Sam knew were out there, but had never met.

“Yeah - down!” The hellhound had jumped to three legs and was now licking Sam’s face. Sam squirmed backwards, trying to avoid the fetid breath and sloppy tongue. He pushed the demon-dog back. The hellhound accepted Sam’s rebuke without even a half-hearted snap of his jaws.

Dean had seen enough. Sam seemed to be forgetting that this was a demon and not an overgrown puppy. “So what are you waiting for, Sam? Get the Colt and shoot it.”

Sam stared at the hellhound, which stared back before lowering his head in submission with a soft whine. Sam let out a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Dean, I can’t.”

“Can’t?” Dean echoed in disbelief. “Why the hell not?”

The hellhound perked his ears at the swear word, but didn’t otherwise move. Sam didn’t take his eyes off the demonic dog as he answered Dean. “Because Bobby fixed the Colt with Ruby’s help,” he explained. “We don’t know that Bobby can make more bullets on his own now that Ruby’s gone. So until we’re sure he can, I don’t want to waste ‘em.”

“Okay,” Dean said after a moment of thought. Sam’s logic was reasonable enough on the surface. Ruby, the would-be handmaiden to the Boy King, had been sent back to Hell in a hand basket. If she ever escaped Hell again, she wouldn’t be in a mood to aid Sam once she found out the only weapon they had that was deadly to demons was inert.

But there was something else lurking in Sam’s expression that Dean didn’t like. If he didn’t know better, he’d think it was some sort of protectiveness and perhaps even kinship with the demon that made Dean feel uneasy. “So tell me, college boy,” he said, trying to push away that disquiet with a joke. “What are we going to do with it?”

Sam inhaled deeply and blew it out through puffed cheeks. “Only thing I can think of is bring him with us.”

It was the last thing he expected Sam to say. In fact, for a moment he thought it was a bad joke, until he realized that his brother was perfectly serious. “No way!” Dean yelled. “No fucking way!”

Sam didn’t look too thrilled by the prospect as he defended his choice. “We can’t let him roam loose, Dean. He’ll rejoin the pack and start hunting someone else. But if he’s with us, that’s one less hellhound causing problems out there.”

“Yeah, by causing problems for us.” Dean looked at the hellhound. They’d constantly be watching the demon, making sure it didn’t turn on them. But what choice did they really have? They couldn’t waste a bullet on such a minor demon, and there was no sure fire way of banishing it. His shoulders slumped in defeat. “But you’re right. We can’t let it loose.”

Bravado echoed in Sam’s voice. “I’ll be able to keep him under control until we figure out how to send him back to Hell and keep him there.”

Dean looked skeptically at his brother. “How? Using that freaky demon power twenty-four/seven? Remember what Bobby said the last time about not using that power?”

Sam shrugged. He didn’t look happy to be reminded of Bobby’s lecture. “Then we’ll find another way.”

“Good luck,” Dean muttered under his breath. “Bobby hasn’t found one yet.”

“Bobby isn’t perfect, Dean. He knows a lot, but he doesn’t know everything.” Sam looked at Dean, an idea lighting up his eyes. “Maybe we need to ask someone else.”

“Yeah? Who?” And then Dean realized who Sam was talking about. “Oh no, Sammy! No fucking way...”

“How the hell did you talk me into this?” Dean grumbled as he looked at the condo. “I can’t believe we’re asking her for help.”

“What do you mean we, Dean?” Sam looked about as thrilled as his brother. “I’m the one who’s going to deal with her.”

Dean gave a half nod of his head. “Why are we doing this again?”

“Because Bobby will want to exorcise him,” Sam said. “I don’t want to release him back to Hell so he can be sent after you again.” He reached for the door. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

Sam held the driver’s door open just long enough for Dean to slide out. He shut it before the hellhound could escape. The spirit canine let out a pitiful whimper as Sam and Dean walked away. Claws could be heard tapping on the glass as the whines grew louder.

Sam turned back and issued one word command. “Stay.”

The hellhound let out a disappointed huff and dropped onto the back seat. “Don’t you dare chew up the upholstery,” Dean yelled towards his car. Following Sam, Dean tried not to think about why Sam had such an easy time seeing him after he revealed himself to his brother and that he had no problems seeing the hellhound. Maybe it had to do with the demon blood. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that seeing Dean made it easier for him to perceive other incorporeal entities.

Or maybe he had been able to ever since he came back from the dead, and had been playing dumb the whole time. More frightened of his new ability than he he had been of the nascent telekinesis and prophetic dreams, Sam didn’t want to reveal it to his brother. Or this was a sign that as Azazel had said, it wasn’t 100% pure Sammy that came back.

Any of those explanations didn’t matter at the moment. Sam knocked on the door three times. It was a moment before the owner answered. “Sam,” Bela said with a wide-eyed innocence that belied the fact that she probably watched his approach on her security monitors. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“It’s business, Bela.” Sam stepped inside. Dean did as well, completely unhindered. He noted with some interest that Bela didn’t have any wards against spirits on her doors, making him wonder if she sold her acquired items right away, or had an off-site storage area like Dad had.

Bela made a big show of looking around Sam for his shorter brother. “And where’s Dean?” she asked with false warmth.

Sam gestured back towards the door. “He’s out in the car.”

“He doesn’t want to see me? I’m crushed.” Bela clapped her hands briskly together. “So let’s get down to business. What do you want?”

Sam took a step further into the room. “What can you tell me about hellhounds, Bela?”

“Tell you?” she asked in surprise. “Why aren’t you consulting your father’s famous journal? Or going to your friend Bobby Singer, the expert on demons? Oh, the next time you see him, tell him excellent work on the curse boxes in your father’s storage locker, by the way.”

Sam shook his head, not rising to the bait. “I don’t want to banish a hellhound, Bela. I want to call one off the hunt.”

Bela arched one perfectly groomed eyebrow in surprise. “You can’t give orders to a hellhound, Sam. They only obey demons. And why are you trying to order a hellhound around?”

Sam looked at her intently. “You’re positive about that?”

“Yes, Sam.” Bela sounded vaguely bored as she lectured the hunter in a tone that clearly said he should have known better. “There may be ancient talismans that can be used in conjunction with spells that will allow you to summon and control a hellhound to an extent, much like you can a deva or a reaper. But if it breaks free of the controls placed on it or encounters a demon, and it will eventually, the hellhound will turn on the human summoner. But you still haven’t answered my question. Why would you...” Her voice trailed off as something caught the corner of her eye. Her voice changed, becoming softer. “I’m sorry, Sam. When did Dean die?”

Sam looked at her stunned, too shocked to deny it. “How did you know?”

Bela gestured at an ornate mirror hanging on her wall. “That looking glass is a scrying tool that belonged to a fortune teller. It allowed her to talk the dead.” She and Sam looked squarely into the mirror. Their reflections stared back, in addition to Dean’s. “Guess we’ll never get to have angry sex, eh, Dean?”

Dean closed his eyes and concentrated. Like a light switch had been thrown, he appeared, standing by Sam. “Not unless you’re into necrophilia.”

“Even I have to draw the line somewhere, Dean.” Bela turned to Sam. The lecturing tone returned as she picked up where she had left off. “If there is a hellhound after him, nothing can be done. Most of the things that will ward off the hellhound will also drive Dean away. Perhaps you could lure it into a devil’s trap and send it back to Hell, but it will only be a matter of time before it’s released and resumes its hunt.”

“I was afraid of that,” Dean mumbled.

Sam voiced what they were both thinking. “We hoped that there was something else.”

Bela shook her head. “Sorry, no.” She looked at Dean speculatively. “You know, Sam, there are some clients out there who would pay good money for a genuine--”

Dean shook his head violently. “Oh hell no!”

Sam looked at Bela sharply. “I’m not selling the hellhound, Bela. And you had better not be talking about Dean.”

Bela shrugged and gave him a practiced flirty smile. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

After leaving Bela’s, they headed three towns away before stopping to crash. And it was still too close as far as Dean was concerned. Bela had sold them out to Gordon Walker before, and he was sure that there were hunters out there who also had their suspicions about Sam and wouldn’t hesitate to deal with it. But he didn’t protest when Sam pulled off and got himself a room and a meal. Sam was tired, and he couldn’t drive the Impala. After a couple of beers, Sam went to bed, confirming yet again Dean’s opinion that he was a lightweight drinker.

Night time was the hardest time for Dean. He could only watch Sam sleep for so long before he felt stir crazy. So he went outside to search for something nearby to entertain him. This time he didn’t bother trying to open the door. He was still learning how to interact and manipulate solid matter. It involved concentrating and remembering what it was like to move them, a sort of psychic muscle memory. Items charged with supernatural energies he manipulated easier, as if part of them existed on the same plane he did. He had practiced to the point where he could just barely move regular matter if he concentrated. But he could pass through mundane matter. The trick, he had figured out, was to act like it wasn’t there.

The night was quiet and peaceful, making it easy to believe that there weren’t horrors lurking in it waiting to snatch away innocence. It reminded him of other times he had been fresh from a hunt and too wired to sleep. He’d sneak out of the room trying not to disturb John (who knew what his eldest was up to, but never commented on it) or Sam (who also knew what he was doing, but didn’t let on) and head off to the nearest bar for booze or sex.

Dean sighed. He didn’t feel physical yearnings, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss the pleasure of sating them. “I’d enjoy this more if I could get drunk. Or laid,” Dean muttered. “Hell, I’d even enjoy Dad’s attempt at cooking.” Lost in his thoughts, he startled when he felt a bump against his leg and the clatter of wood hitting the ground. He jumped backwards, glaring downwards. “What are you doing out here?” Dean snapped.

The hellhound looked at him mildly and wagged his tail. The massive head bent, wet nose nudging what it had dropped. It was the remnants of a warlock’s staff they had removed from a private collection. The previous owner had been all too happy to relinquish it when he learned it had been to blame for his recent turn of misfortune. Sam was still trying to neutralize the curse, which didn’t seem to touch him (another thing that Dean didn’t want to think about too closely). The hellhound, delighted when he discovered it, regarding it as his own personal chew toy. Now the once six-foot long ornately carved staff was a little less than a foot long. The gnawed ends indicated that it would get shorter still. The hellhound looked up at Dean, wagged his tail, and then nudged the stick a little closer to Dean’s booted feet.

Dean looked at the demon-dog, stunned. “You want to play fetch?” Experimentally, he took the staff and tossed it. The hellhound scampered after it like an overgrown puppy. He returned carrying it in his mouth, head high and tail swishing side to side as he trotted without signs of a limp. Again he placed it at Dean’s feet, bowed so his wagging tail was in the air and forelegs stretched out, and looked up, clearly waiting.

Dean gave a surprised huff. “Well I’ll be damned,” he said without a trace of irony. “You do want to play fetch.” Taking the stick, he tossed it again, watching the hellhound scamper after it again and return.

He played with the hellhound until dawn started to creep over the horizon. It must have proved a surreal sight to any psychic who could have seen it - a spirit and a demon interacting in harmony. Mundane people would probably just be freaked by a stick moving in an arc and then parallel to the ground in an endless cycle. But it ended as sunlight filtered down. “Come on, boy,” Dean said, now feeling weary “Let’s go in.”

Once inside, Dean lay down on the empty queen bed, mostly out of habit. The hellhound, instead of curling up at the foot of Sam’s bed as he had earlier in the evening, leapt up and stretched out next to Dean. “Get off,” Dean said, shoving half-heartedly at the dog. Somehow the hellhound seemed to double its mass, making it impossible to move, and gave a beseeching whine. “Okay, you can stay,” Dean grumbled and scratched behind his ears.

The hellhound’s tail thumped against Dean’s leg as it leaned against him, letting out a happy whine. “I guess you’re not such a bad dog,” Dean muttered quietly. “For a hellhound.”

The next morning, the hellhound dropped back to the floor before Sam woke up and left to get breakfast, sparing Dean any comments. Sam was gone for about half an hour before returning. He had taken to eating in their motel so he and Dean could talk without being the recipient of weird stares when he forgot it looked like he was having a conversation with empty air. “So I got a newspaper,” Sam began, opening the styrofoam box.

The scent of eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and cheese wafted out, making Dean’s mouth water. “Oh man, I really miss eating,” he said, watching enviously as Sam lifted a forkful of omelet.

Sam shot an annoyed look at his brother. “Dean, focus.” When he felt he had his brother’s attention, Sam spoke between bites. “I saw an article about this house that they haven’t been able to sell, or keep rented for over a year. People keep complaining that the pipes constantly banged, and there had to be a rat infestation from all the scratching noises heard.”

“But the plumber never found anything wrong, and no sign of any rodents,” Dean guessed. “So you wanna check it out?”

‘’Yeah, but there’s one problem.” Sam’s eyes slid over to the hellhound, which was contentedly gnawing on one of his boots. “Hey! Stop that!”

Dean followed Sam’s gaze, not understanding. “What’s the problem?” he asked, as Sam reclaimed the boot. The hellhound gave a disappointed whine, but didn’t snap as his chosen chew toy was snatched away.

Sam gave Dean an odd look. “What are we supposed to do with him?” He glanced at the mangled shoe and dropped it with an expression of disgust. The hellhound happily reclaimed it and resumed chomping.

Dean shrugged, clearly not worried. “Like you said before, Sammy. We’ll bring him with us.”

“Bring him with us?” Sam looked at Dean as if he was crazy. “You’re the one who wanted to shoot him.”

“He’s not so bad when you get used to his breath.” Dean knelt down next to the hellhound and took the massive head in his hands. “You just need a mint. Isn’t that right, Lars?” His fingers dug in behind the ears and rubbed. The hellhound’s tail thumped in contentment.

Sam’s eyes bugged out. “You named him Lars?”

“Yeah,” Dean said as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “He doesn’t look like an Ozzy and we can’t keep calling him hellhound.”

“Yes we can. Because he is one, Dean,” Sam countered, staring at his brother as if he were a stranger. “We’re not keeping him! What is with you? Have you forgotten that he’s supposed to drag you to Hell?”

“He won’t,” Dean said with certainty. He stood up to face his brother. “You made sure of that, Sam. Besides, you were the one who said we couldn’t cut him loose.”

Sam crossed his arms over his chest, not fully convinced. “So what are we going to do with him?”

Dean’s grin grew wider, revealing the pride he felt at his idea. “Use him as a hunting dog.”

Sam stared blankly at Dean, rephrasing his question as a flat statement. “You want to use him to hunt.”

“Why not, Sammy?” Dean asked. Lars, sensing he was being talked about, dropped the shoe to watch the brothers. “He’d be perfect for it.”

Sam looked at Lars, head tilted slightly in distrust. Lars was mimicking the motion in curiosity. “I don’t know about this.”

“Come on, Sammy. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten all the times you asked Dad for a dog and he said no.”

“I wanted a labrador, Dean. Not a demonic creature that could shred a cow in ten seconds.” Sam stared hard at Lars. “If he even blinks at you funny, I’m shooting him.”

“Lars hasn’t done anything evil since we found him. He won’t go Old Yeller on us, Sammy.” Dean reached down to ruffle Lars’ ears. “I’ll bet he’s a natural at hunting.” He looked at the hellhound speculatively. “You really think he could shred a cow in ten seconds? That’d be cool to see.”

Sam shook his head.

Dean leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. Lars was waiting in the car with his chew stick to keep him busy since they didn’t trust him around people yet. He watched Sam shake hands with a perky blonde real estate agent; the plastic engraved name tag on her jacket proclaimed her name to be Sandy. The walls of the small office were filled with pictures of single- and two-story homes, some with happy families smiling in front of them.

He had to hand it to Sam. His younger brother had been sitting and talking with Sandy for about half an hour now about the housing market and what was available in the area. About how he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him, and since he was passing through on a road trip with his brother, and he thought why not see if this would be a good place to settle down? Sam sounded like he had done that before.

And with a sickening twist in his gut, he realized Sam probably had. Besides shopping for rings, he probably had been looking at places to live with Jessica after they got married. Sam and Jess should have been one of the smiling couples featured on those pictures of successful sales. It was just another of his dreams looted by Azazel’s plots.

Dean was pulled out of his thoughts when the agent mentioned the street of the house they were interested in. “So is there anything I should be aware of about the area?” Sam asked

“No, it’s a good neighborhood. Great schools, no crime to speak of... but there is one thing that I’m required by law to inform you of.” Sandy took a deep breath before she spat out the words like they were leaving a sour taste in her mouth. “The house is supposed to be haunted.”

Dean was proud how Sam made a show of repeating the word in disbelief. “Haunted?”

“Yes. The only reason I’m telling you this is that we have a Ghoul Law, and if I don’t, it’s my license.” Sandy sounded defensive. “It’s not like I actually believe it.”

Sam arched an eyebrow, trying to look skeptical. Dean thought it made him look constipated. “So what’s the story?”

Sandy shrugged her shoulders. “According to local legend, the land originally belonged to a woman accused of being a witch. Her cabin was burnt to the ground after she was hung in a tree in front of it. People refused to build on the land until about five years ago.”

Dean was shaking his head. “And then some idiot built on cursed ground. Brilliant.” It matched what little they had been able to glean from their research at the library before coming here.

Sam kept his focus on Sandy, trying to ignore his brother’s valid point. “So how soon can I see the place?”

“How about right now?” Sandy said. She handed over a set of keys. “If you’ll just lock up when you’re done and drop the keys through the mail slot--”

Sam looked at her, surprised. “You’re not coming?”

“Er, no.” Again there was a defensive tone in her voice. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to. I’m supposed to be showing a house on the other side of town.”

“She’s not a bad liar, Sammy,” Dean said. “She even managed to look you in the eyes for that one. Too bad she’s squirming all over the place like her thong’s in a twist.” A speculative look crossed his face. “You think she’s wearing underwear?”

Dean smiled when Sam twitched and was barely able to gasp out to the agent that he’d be happy to return her keys. He knew Sam would later lecture him about making comments when other people couldn’t see him, but that choking noise Sam made told him he had scored a direct hit and that more than made up for it.

Lars began barking his head off the moment they pulled up to the house. “I think this is the place,” Dean said, leaning against the side of the car. The house looked innocent enough from the exterior. The fresh coat of paint and well manicured lawn gave no hint of the horrors that the former tenants claimed laid within the single story dwelling with the white picket fence.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed as he pulled an EMF meter and the shotgun loaded with rock salt from the trunk. “Wait here, Dean. I’ll go do a sweep.”

Dean let out a frustrated grunt of agreement. Again, this was the down side of being a hunter and a spirit. Half the tricks they used to detect the presence of spirits couldn’t be used any longer, since they couldn’t be sure that Dean was setting them off. So he was forced to stay outside by the Impala, trying to shush Lars, who still barked at the house, waiting for Sam to signal him in. Between the barks, he thought he heard a meow.

Eventually Sam reappeared at the door and waved him over. The house appeared to be just as well cared for inside. Furniture and little knickknacks were in place, waiting for the renter’s return. Which would be a long wait since they had sworn they would never set foot in the home again. But there was a sense of being watched as soon as he stepped inside. “What did ya find, Sammy?”

“EMF detector kept going off, so there’s definitely a spirit here.” Sam looked around. “Only question is where.”

Dean looked around, poking at various knickknacks. “Nothing here from the original owners?”

Sam’s lips were pressed together in a frustrated line. “Nope.”

“Okay, so what’s holding the witch’s spirit here?” Dean asked. “Was she buried on the grounds?”

“According to local legend, she was lynched and buried under that tree out front. Dad’s journal mentions that a hunter came through this area and dealt with the coven she was a part of. I doubt that he wouldn’t have finished the job and left the body unsalted and unburnt.”

An angry hiss filled the air followed by a long yowl. Dean and Sam looked at each other, starting to understand. “Dude, that doesn’t sound like a human spirit.”

Sam nodded. “I think it’s a... cat? A familiar to the witch?” He looked around, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. “Where is it hiding?”

Dean grinned wide. “I know an easy way to find out.” He headed to the door, stuck his head outside, and let out a loud whistle. Lars scrambled out of the Impala, tail wagging in eagerness as he bounced his way to the brothers. “Good boy,” Dean praised, scratching between the hellhound’s ears. “You smell that cat in there, Lars? You wanna play with him?” Lars let out an eager whine, looking at Dean with pleading eyes. Dean’s grin grew wider. “Then go find him.”

He didn’t have to tell the hellhound twice. Lars bounded into the house, charged past Sam, and made a beeline towards the kitchen. Another angry screech and several clattering crashes were heard after Lars, barking happily, bolted through the door. It was still swinging on its hinges when a black, cat-shaped blur shot past them. The form bounced off one of the far walls, jumping for the shelves and knocking books and pictures off in its wake. Lars followed, caroming off the wall and over ending the couch that the familiar had squeezed under. The spirit then shot out the open door, Lars two paces behind.

Dean and Sam looked at each other for a split second before running outside in time to see the feline shape dash up the closest tree. Lars circled the trunk, looking up into the branches and barking nonstop. Sam ran for the Impala’s trunk for the bag of rock salt. Dean dragged the hellhound back by the scruff of his neck as Sam ringed the tree with salt, leaving the familiar nowhere to flee.

Dean knelt down and rubbed Lars’ belly, telling him what a good boy he was as Sam finished trapping the familiar. “Okay? Now what?” he asked.

Sam looked at Dean, then Lars, and then up the tree. “You might want to take Lars for a walk while I finish up here.”

Dean nodded. Unlike demons which could be exorcised from the body they were possessing, incorporeal familiars had to be banished. Just because the banishment wasn’t targeted at Lars didn’t mean that it couldn’t influence him. “Come on, Lars,” Dean said, giving the hellhound’s shoulder a friendly slap. Lars let out a disappointed whimper as he was led away from his new friend. Just as they were about to pass the Impala, Dean looked back at Sam. The beginning words of the banishment ritual reached his ears, and he couldn’t help but smile when he noticed what Sam held in one hand. “I wish we had a camera, Lars”, he said.

He was never going to let Sam live down the fact that he had to use a neon pink squirt gun to hit the spirit cat with holy water.

“That had to be one of our easiest hunts in a long time,” Sam commented as they drove away after returning the key to the real estate agent.

“Yeah,” Dean grinned. “And you didn’t want to bring Lars along.” Lars, hearing his name, popped his head over the back of the seat, panting happily and tongue lolling out. Dean petted the fanged face as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. “So what’s next?”

Sam shrugged. “Heard about some kids reporting being harassed in their homes by little people in blue.” He looked at Dean. “Could be kobolds.”

Dean didn’t look convinced. “Could be nightmares from watching the Smurfs too many times.”

“Yeah, still, it’s better than nothing,” Sam agreed as the phone rang. He glanced at the display, frowning a little when he recognized the number. “Hey Bobby,” he answered it, punching the speaker button. “What’s up?”

“Not quite,” a female voice answered. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to capture a demonologist alive?”

Sam stiffened. It wasn’t the same voice as before, but he had a good idea who was calling. “Ruby,” he hissed. “What have you done with him?”

Dean could almost see Ruby rolling her eyes as she responded. “Oh don’t sound so panicked. He’s alive and mostly in one piece. For the moment.”

“What is it you want?”

“You know what I want.” The five words were just as chilling as when Dean had been alive. “You and Dean. At the garage at the junkyard. And don’t bring the Colt. See you in two hours, boys.” The phone line went dead.

Sam pulled the Impala into a squealing U-turn. Dean didn’t say anything as Sam disregarded speed limits. Lars, sensing something was wrong, popped his head over the back of the seat and gave an inquiring whine. And another when no one petted him until he nudged Dean’s shoulder.

Dean reached back without looking and mashed his palm against Lars’ forehead, pushing him into the back seat. “Damn it, Sam. If that bitch hurt him--”

“I know, Dean. I know.” Sam sighed, knowing what came next wouldn’t be well received. “Dean, I think you should stay with the car and keep an eye on Lars when we get there.”

“Hell no, Sam!” Dean shook his head. “You’re not leaving me behind this time. I can’t be more than 100 yards away from you.”

“And she’s a demon, Dean. Remember what Bela said? A hellhound will obey a demon over a human? You want her to use Lars as a weapon? I can’t fight her and keep him from dragging your ass to Hell.”

“And I’m not leaving you to face her alone.” Dean hit the dashboard out of frustration. “That’s Bobby Ruby’s gotten her claws into.” It may have been John’s love and attention that he craved, but when it came down to it, Bobby had always acted more like a father to him.

Sam looked hard at Dean before turning his attention back to the road. “Okay, Dean.”

They pulled up outside the entrance of Singer Salvage Yard. Lars watched, head sticking out the passenger window, as Dean and Sam moved to the trunk and opened it. Plans had been discussed, analyzed, modified and discarded before they settled on the best one. Now it was time to implement it.

Sam armed himself by tucking bottles of holy water, Palo Santo, a short wrought iron bar, into various pockets. “You think you can get Bobby out while I’m taking care of Ruby?” he asked as he double-checked the bullets were in the Colt.

“Yeah,” Dean said. “Say hi to her for me, before you send her smoky ass back to Hell.”

Dean ordered Lars to stay put. The hellhound let out a disappointed whine, but didn’t leave the Impala. Careful not to bee seen, they headed in, but not to the house Bobby lived in. Instead they worked their way to the outbuilding that served as a garage and office. Because it was the non-hunting, public face he kept for his business and other than a few stashes of holy water, rosaries, and rock salt, it wasn’t as heavily warded. It consisted of little more than a large repair bay and a small office. The roll up garage door was pulled shut, and a brunette female figure could be seen watching through the smudged office window. “It looks like she’s alone in there,” Sam said. “Bobby’s probably in the repair bay.”

Crouching behind rusted and stripped car shells, they snuck to the back entrance and slipped into the building. Sam signaled that he was heading into the office. That left the main garage for him. But before he could move he felt a bump against his leg. Dean looked down. “Lars?”

The hellhound looked up at Dean and then into the building. It let out a low growl and oozed past Dean into the garage. “Lars, no!” he hissed, making a grab for Lars’ ruff and missing. Not having any choice and hoping they wouldn’t run into Ruby, he followed.

The repair bay was mostly empty, tool chests and other equipment pushed against the walls, the car lift flat against the floor. That left the middle of the room clear for a chair that had been dragged from the office. From the way Bobby slumped in it, Dean wasn’t sure if the hunter was conscious. The only reason he didn’t slide out of it were the ropes across his chest securing him in place. More bound his wrists behind him. Dried blood crusted a trail down his jaw from a gash on his head, clotting in his hair and staining his shirt. Dark bruises ringed his eyes.

The hellhound’s growl grew louder. “Lars, shh! It’s okay!” Dean knelt behind the chair and drew in a deep breath. Ignoring Lars’ snarling he concentrated, remembering the feel of rope beneath his fingers and the sensation of manipulating them. And smiled when the cord began to loosen from Bobby’s wrists. He didn’t waste the energy trying to materialize while manipulating matter, but he talked anyway. “Gonna have you out of here, Bobby. Just hang on”

Bobby only grunted in response, and Lars’ barking turned into a louder growling. There was a nagging feeling in his gut as he concentrated on moving the ropes, a sensation something was wrong. And it hit him. Lars was staring at Bobby, every hair on end, spittle dripping from his jaws. The hellhound had barked at people in the past, people he could hunt if given leave to, he and Sam had guessed. But he never growled at innocent humans. He had ignored the possessed girl beyond initially sniffing in her direction. So Bobby twisted back to smile at him, and Dean didn’t need see his eyes were a demonic black to realize they were all in deep trouble. “Hello, Dean.”

Before Dean could react, Sam was yelling, pounding footsteps coming their direction. “Dean! That’s not Bobby!”

Sam and the teenage girl barely ran into the room before they were slammed against the wall. “Sam. So good of you to join us.” The malicious grin on Bobby’s face was as alien as the coal black eyes. “You really thought you got rid of me,” Ruby sneered in the hunter’s voice as the demon shrugged off the ropes. “You really thought you were strong enough to cast me back into Hell without using a devil’s trap?”

PInned against the wall, Sam glared at the demon before gritting out words. “Exorcizamus te, omnis--”

“Ah, ah, ah,” Ruby chided. “How did Bobby put it? Those who are possessed are rode hard and put away wet?” She pulled the torn shirt aside, revealing muscle deep wounds that had barely stopped oozing. “He’s lost a lot of blood, you know. And I’m not in the mood to go peacefully, even if I don’t have a locking symbol on him. You sure he’s up to the ordeal of an exorcism?”

“Fine. We’ll do it the fast way.” Sam’s eyes flickered yellow as the tendons in his neck bulged from the strain. “Get out of him!”

At the same moment, Ruby yelled. “Hellhound! Attack!” before Bobby’s jaws were forced wide. A black, oily smoke billowed forth, heading straight for the woman pinned next to Sam.

To Dean’s horror, Lars charged. The hellhound knocked him to the ground with a fiendish howl, claws digging into his belly and shoulders. He yelled in pain, hands pushing at the devil dog--

--which scrambled over Dean and charged for the incorporeal Ruby. The hellhound bit down on the demonic smoke, dragging the cloud away from the girl before it could force itself down her throat. Instead it enveloped the snarling demon-dog.

Sam dropped to his knees, drawing in deep breaths. He scrambled over to Bobby and finished untying him. Dean watched, wanting to fight, but knowing he was no match for Ruby. Unholy shrieks and angry growls were heard as the demons battled, the cloud roiling and the occasional glow of foxfire poking through.

With one last unearthly screech, the hellhound was ejected from the cloud. Lars hit the far wall with a bone-crunching smack and limply slid down. The smoke billowed through a crack in the window and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Lars let out a weak whimper and attempted to gain his feet before collapsing. Bobby was breathing heavily as he seemed to be track the hellhound’s progress and started speaking softly. “Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiri--”

Lars shifted uneasily and whined in pain. “Bobby, no,” Dean whispered.

Sam stepped in between the hunter and the hellhound. Yellow eyes stared into brown. “Sleep, Bobby,” he said in that creepy voice quietly enough so only Bobby would hear him. “I’ve got it all under control.”

Dean looked over at Sam in time to see Bobby slump unconscious. “Sam? How is he?”

Sam lightly touched Bobby’s neck. When he turned to talk to Dean, his eyes were normal. “His pulse is strong. He’s just unconscious. I’ll get him in the house.” He turned back to the brunette woman, cowering in corner. “What’s your name?”

“J-j-jeniffer.” Pale and shaking, she didn’t look at all reassured that the demon was gone. Probably because she was watching Sam was holding a conversation with someone he couldn’t see, Dean thought.

Sam held out a hand to her, reminding Dean of someone trying to coax a frightened kitten closer. “We won’t hurt you. Can you help me, please?”

The girl eyed his outstretched hand warily. “Wha-what are you? Who are you talking to?”

“I’ll explain later,” Sam said. “Help me get him into the house.”

Jennifer timidly came forward and helped Sam lift the unconscious hunter. As they left the building, Dean looked at Lars. The hellhound still laid crumpled where Ruby had flung him against the wall. But at Dean’s approach, Lars lifted his head and let out a whine. “Good boy, Lars,” Dean reassured. “Very good boy.”

Several hours later, Dean sat in the back seat of the Impala with a lapful of hellhound. He gently stroked the tattered ears, looking towards the house. “You got tore up pretty bad,” he murmured. Lars gave a whimper of agreement. The hellhound, probably sensing all the anti-demon wards Bobby had on the place, didn’t want to even step on the porch.

After a while Sam had appeared with Jennifer, got into Bobby’s Chevelle, and drove off. When he returned an hour later, he was alone. He didn’t go straight into the house. Sam walked over to the Impala and opened the door, crouching down to address his brother. “Dean? Bobby wants to talk to us.”

Dean nodded. “Stay,” he told Lars with one last pat and then slid out. The hellhound let out a tired huff and lowered his head against the upholstery. “Yeah, boy, I know how you feel.” He looked at Sam as they walked to the house. “So tell me, Sammy. What happened to Jennifer?”

“Put her on a bus back to Wisconsin,” Sam said. “She’s on her way back to her parents.”

“And a lifetime of therapy,” Dean added as the brothers walked into the house. Bobby was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a beer. Dean materialized, figuring if he’d wanted to talk to both of them, he’d probably want to see him. “How you doing Bobby?

“I’ll live,” Bobby grunted.

“How’d Ruby get the drop on you?” Sam asked.

“I got careless,” Bobby said with a trace of disgust. “An old friend of mine called and said he needed help with an exorcism. So I showed up, expecting to drive the demon out of Jennifer. I didn’t even think for a moment that Aaron was the one who was possessed. Ruby jumped from him to me and made me attack him.” Bobby took a drink, pausing to wipe his lips. “Aaron didn’t make it.”

Bobby didn’t have to say more for the brothers to understand what he meant. Dean recalled watching some pixelated footage on a computer monitor of a hunter having his throat slashed by another possessed hunter. The thought that Ruby had been able to make Bobby do what Meg had made Sam do made him feel sick to his stomach.

Bobby’s voice broke his reverie. “Now start talking,” he said sternly. “What was that fighting Ruby before I passed out? I know it wasn’t Dean. He’s not strong enough to drive off a demon.”

Sam couldn’t quite look Bobby in the eye, and neither could Dean. “It was a hellhound,” Sam muttered quietly.

Bobby started at the news. “A hellhound?” He looked around, alert for the sounds of howls he didn’t hear, and then at Dean. “It’s still here?”

Dean nodded. “Yeah, he’s out with the car.”

“Out in the car? Why haven’t you tried to banish it?” Bobby’s disbelief turned into outrage. “Why are you morons letting it stick around?”

Sam shifted uncomfortably, glancing at Dean before answering. As far as Dean was concerned, Sam started it, so he could explain it. “We found him, and didn’t want to send him back to Hell so some other demon could send him after Dean. So we’ve been keeping him with us.”

Bobby’s hand slammed against the table, making the bottled rattle. “And you trust it?”

“Lars never tried to hurt me or Sam. We’ve used him on a hunt.”

“You what?!? You idiots! That thing is waiting for you to let your guard down and then it’s going to drag you back to Hell. That’s what they do!”

Sam leaned over the table, getting into Bobby’s face. “Look, Bela told us that a hellhound will automatically obey a demon over a human. Lars didn’t obey Ruby when she ordered him to attack. He protected Dean instead.”

Bobby’s eyebrows arched. “You named the hellhound Lars?”

Sam shrugged. “Well, Dean did.”

“Right,” Bobby said, as if that explained everything. His attention was now fixed on Sam. “You gave it an order, didn’t you?”

Sam shifted guiltily. “Yeah, I did.”

Bobby narrowed his eyes. “How many times have I told you...” He shook his head. “How did you figure out that I was possessed?”

“I was about to shoot Jennifer, except something felt off,” Sam explained. “She didn’t give the same vibe that Ruby or Meg did.”

“Lars kept growling at you,” Dean added. “He never growls at people, and kept on when I told him to shut up. But I should have figured it out faster.”

Bobby looked at him, wearing a puzzled expression. “How?”

Dean’s grin had definite shit-eating qualities. “You weren’t wearing a hat.”

Bobby shook his head. Dean was glad that he was still incorporeal, because the hunter looked like he really wanted to smack him. “So what are you boys going to do now?”

“What we always do,” Dean said with a shrug. “Save people, hunt things, the family business.”

“And... Lars?” Bobby pronounced the name of the hellhound with some reluctance.

“Will be going with us,” Sam responded.

“I don’t like it.” Bobby sat back, staring gravely at them. “You boys are asking for a lot of trouble keeping that hellhound with you. Just because it hasn’t done anything yet doesn’t mean it won’t.” His voice sharpened and his focus shifted solely to Sam. “And I know that you know better than to let anyone else know about this.”

They left Bobby’s the next morning at dawn, not bothering with breakfast for Sam. Bobby had assured Dean and Sam that he would be fine, and that the brothers could stay for a few days if they wanted. But there was an unspoken tension between the three of them now, and neither Sam nor Dean felt comfortable staying there.

The cause of the unspoken tension was currently lying on his back in front of Dean, demanding his belly be rubbed.

Putting the sandwich he picked up from the gas station’s mart on the bench next to him, Sam watched as Dean dug his fingers into the shaggy fur and scratched. One of Lars’ back legs started paddling the air with pleasure. But Sam didn’t smile. He waited for the couple jogging by to be out of earshot before speaking. “Dean,” he asked, staring at the hellhound thoughtfully. “You think Bobby was right?”

“About what, Sam?” Dean asked.

“About Lars turning against us, going back to behaving ‘normal’ and try to drag your soul to Hell.”

“I don’t want to believe that he could,” Dean said. “But I guess there’s always the chance. About the same as you turning evil.”

Sam sighed and looked down. “Bobby thinks that’s likely,” he said quietly. “He thinks Lars is the first sign of it.”

“Not going to happen, Sam,” Dean said firmly with one last pat to Lars abdomen. “I’m not going to let it happen.”

“Dean, if I have to use the power--”

Dean stood so he didn’t have to look up at Sam as much. “Lars isn’t going to turn on us, Sammy, any more than you are. You said it yourself. He attacked Ruby to save us. He’s been out here for the last hour and hasn’t shown any interest in anyone passing by. We can trust him. Now come on,” he added. “Finish that sandwich. We’ve got a long drive if we want to reach Carlisle before sunset when that colony of blood drinking bat spirits are supposed to emerge and suck the life out of everyone in the town. Just remember to pack a really big butterfly net.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Jerk.” But he stood up and headed towards the car.

“Bitch.” Dean followed, a smirk on his face. He turned back to Lars. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go.”

He didn’t have to repeat himself. Before he was finished speaking, the hellhound ran for the Impala and jumped into the passenger seat, ready to go.

Dean shook his head. “Oh hell no, Lars. You’re not riding shotgun.”