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Nine Lives

Title: Nine Lives
Fandom: Supernatural
Summary: Sam and Dean as kids; and maybe John had told them not to open the door to anyone, but surely that didn't apply to cats, right?

"Deeeean," Sam said again, begging, and Dean knew he was doomed.

He had to put up a token resistance though, so he said, "Dad said not to open the door." He tried to make it sound final, knew it didn't work.

"Dean, please." Huge eyes, serious expression, just the faintest hint of a chin quiver, and really he was old enough now that that shouldn't work on Dean, but it did.

It was the quiet warbling mew from outside that tipped the balance. They both heard it, and Sam's expression changed to one of such distress that Dean didn't have much choice except to cross the room, grumbling under his breath the entire time like he wasn't about to do it anyway, and open the door. As soon as he did, a small black blur streaked between his legs and under one of the beds.

Sam immediately moved to crouch next to the bed, peering underneath. He held out one hand. "Hey there," he said softly. Wiggled his fingers a little. "Hey."

It wasn't very long before he got a response; turned out cats couldn't resist Sam any more than Dean could. Sam ended up sitting on top of the bed with the cat in his arms. It was pure black, and had the look of a kitten about it. Sam stroked it, and scratched behind its ears and under its chin, and murmured nonsense to it, and Dean watched.

He was careful to turn the doofy grin on his face into a scowl when Sam looked up; but from the smile that Sam hid in the cat's fur, he didn't think he was quite successful.


It was Sam's cat; there was no question of that. She -- (Dean checked, at Sam's insistence, and while he wasn't totally sure about it, he at least couldn't see any obvious parts, so declared the cat to be a she) -- tolerated Dean somewhat, but it was clearly Sam that she liked best, Sam that she curled up purring next to without prompting, Sam that she trusted. And equally clearly, Sam was head over heels in love with her, and had been from the very first moment.

Dean thought it was the cutest thing ever, but what he said was, "Dad's gonna kill us for this, y'know. Kill me, at least."

"He is not," Sam replied absently, absorbed in watching the cat attack his fingers.

"Is too."

"Is not."

"Since when has Dad given any indication of letting us have pets?"

Sam looked up at that, brow furrowed, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth as he thought. "Well, maybe he will if we ask him nicely."

Dean scoffed. Sam turned his attention back to the cat. After a moment, Dean said, "I'll see what I can do, once Dad gets back. No promises," he added quickly, shrugging, but Sam still glowed with pleasure, like Dean had given him the moon. "Whatever." It was nice to see Sam actually happy, but he wasn't about to admit that. "Anyway, you can keep her at least until Dad gets back, but she's yours, okay? I'm not doing anything. You're the one gets to take care of her, pay for her food and shit."

"Laaaanguage," Sam sing-songed.

"Shut up."


It would have helped, probably, if either of them had any idea what you needed for a cat. Stray cats didn't come with an instruction manual, so they just improvised, and for the most part it really didn't work at all.

Sam took one of his old shirts, one of the ones that was almost too small to wear, and donated it for a bed for the cat. After the first five minutes or so she abandoned it in favor of sleeping on top of Sam, so he tried tearing strips off the shirt to dangle as cat toys, which she more or less ignored.

Dean went out to get her some food, because for all that it was Sam's cat, Sam didn't actually have much of a way to pay for things. He got the store brand because that was the cheapest; she sniffed at it, gave both it and Dean an offended look, and stalked away. He'd also gotten some milk, which she made cranky noises at but then settled down to lap at, which Dean supposed counted at least partly as a success.

They improvised a litter box, which she also ignored, preferring instead to vanish somewhere outside and then yowl at the door until they let her back in. Dean ended up leaving the bathroom window open enough for her to get in and out. He scooped her up and brought her in to the bathroom, pointing her nose at the window and going "See?" like she'd understand. Set her down on the floor to see what she'd do, and she jumped to the toilet (wobbling on the seat, but she didn't fall in) and then the sink and then the window-ledge, and was sniffing at the outside. "You come back," Dean said softly. "Sam'll kill me if you don't." The cat flicked her ears like she understood, and was gone, but only for a little while.

And so it went.


"We should take her to the doctor," Sam said. "Vet, I mean."

"Is something wrong with her?" Dean squinted, but the cat seemed perfectly normal to him, aside from a slightly disturbing tendency to contort herself in strange ways.

"Nah, just, y'know, checkups and stuff. It's what you do with pets." Sam sounded like he knew what he was talking about, even though he probably didn't, which amused Dean to no end.

He started to say, "I don't think we'll have her around long enough anyway," but caught himself after three words, changed it to "--don't think it's necessary."

Sam said nothing, just gave him a stubborn look, and Dean sighed. "All right, fine, give her over, I'll take her to the vet." He wrapped the cat up in his jacket, making a mental note to get some sort of carrier (but only if they were allowed to keep her, 'cause it was kind of a waste otherwise). "Don't open the door, okay, Sam?"

"Even if there's another cat?" Sam asked, grinning.

Dean scowled at him. "Dude, especially if there's another cat. One's enough. C'mon, Sammy, promise me you won't open the door for anything or anyone? Dad'll kill me if anything happens."

"Yeah, okay, sure," Sam said, and flopped on the bed with one of the books he'd checked out from the local library, his back to Dean.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Dean told him, and left.

He spent an hour or two at a local cafe, charming lunch out of one of the waitresses there -- a trick that would maybe stop working one of these days, once he stopped being Cute, but hey, free lunch was free lunch -- and sneaking pieces of meat to his jacket as he ate. (He considered bringing the cat out, partly because it would be easier to feed her that way and partly because he might get more free stuff, since cats were cuter than growing boys, but he also might get thrown out if they didn't like pets there, so he didn't.)

When enough time had passed, he went back to the motel. The cat twisted free of Dean's jacket as soon as they were inside, complaining loudly at him. Dean grinned; cats were, apparently, perfectly capable of conveying complete irritation just by the way they licked their fur down.

"Well?" Sam asked, and Dean shrugged.

"She's fine. Healthy."

The cat gave an irritated *mow!* at Dean, just to make sure he knew she wasn't happy with him, and then curled purring against Sam, nudging his hand with her head until he started stroking her. "Thanks, Dean," Sam said quietly.


"She needs a name," Sam announced sleepily, one of the mornings.

"Of course she does," Dean said with a sigh. As far as he was concerned, Cat was a perfectly good name, but, whatever. "Got any suggestions?"

"I was thinkin' Midnight," Sam said, and Dean choked with laughter.

"What are you, an eight-year-old girl?"

Sam aimed a kick at him that missed by about a mile. "Shut up," he said defensively. "Jerk. I'm not hearing any better ideas from you."

"That's 'cause I already got a name for her."

Sam gave him a scornful look. "Yeah, uh, 'Cat' isn't a name."

"Is too. Watch." Dean raised his voice a bit, snapped his fingers. "Hey, Cat!"

She lifted her head, gave him pretty much the same scornful look -- and yeah, she really was Sam's cat -- and then let her head drop.

"See?" Dean said.


Dean grinned and ruffled Sam's hair. Tried to ruffle Cat's fur too, but she squirmed a little and bit him, not hard enough to break skin, just hard enough to be felt, like a warning.


John came home a week or so later; he looked tired, and he moved slowly, wincing. It wasn't bad enough that he let Dean help with anything, but it clearly hadn't been an easy hunt. He mumbled a hello, dropped his bag in the corner, dropped himself into the chair, and closed his eyes. That was usually the cue for Dean to leave him alone, and Dean badly wanted to.

He'd been half-dreading this, playing the possible conversations out in his mind, and they usually ended with John telling them to get rid of the cat. Which, okay, maybe the cat was a pain in the ass sometimes, but it made Sam smile, and that was something. Dean personally couldn't care whether or not they kept the cat, of course, but Sam cared, and so Dean really didn't want to start the conversation, much less finish it.

But Dean also knew that putting the whole thing off 'til later would just make it worse, or land him in it when he wasn't suspecting or wasn't fully awake, so he drew himself up, standing as tall as he could, and said, "Hey Dad, about the cat--"

John squinted at him. Looked from him to Sam and back. Lifted an eyebrow, and Dean knew that expression; it was the oh-god-what-now sort of look, a cross between exasperation and amused patience. "Cat?" His voice was a rumble. "What cat?"

Dean looked at Sam, who was sprawled on the bed with the cat draped on his stomach, both dozing. John had a faintly puzzled look on his face. "Uh," Dean said, and things started to click into a not particularly fun place. He went abruptly cold, like a bucket of ice water just upended over him. Shit.

John said, "Dean, if this is one of your games... later, okay?"

"Yessir," Dean mumbled, feeling his face burn, and he fled outside, where it was hot and humid and he huddled in on himself and shook like he was freezing.


Sam came outside when he woke up, holding Cat in one hand, closing the door softly behind him with the other. "Hey, Dean," he said in a low, hopeful voice. "Didja talk to Dad?"

"Uh," Dean said, "not yet."

"I hope we can keep her," Sam said wistfully. Cat reached up and batted at his mouth with one paw, and he smiled and scratched her chin.

"Yeah." Dean cleared his throat, not looking at Sam or at the cat. "Me too."

Sam looked sideways at him. "If it'd help, I could talk to him about it."

"No," Dean said quickly, too quickly. "I mean, thanks, but I don't think it'll help any."

"Okay." Sam didn't look convinced, but he didn't press it either, and Dean closed his eyes and listened to the rumble of Cat's purr.


Dean waited to try again until John had rested up some from the hunt. Partly that was just a way to delay the inevitable, but partly he needed his dad to be alert and thinking, because it wasn't just a matter of keeping a pet, not any more. He lurked silently around the motel suite, re-opening the bathroom window every time John closed it, deflecting John's attention each time Sam started playing with the cat, lying miserably awake at night trying to figure out what the hell he could say.

When John started looking halfway human again, Dean fidgeted through breakfast and then said, "Dad, can I talk to you? Alone?"

The look that John gave him wasn't promising, but he nodded and said, "Sure, of course," and Sam winked and gave Dean a thumbs-up.

It wasn't hot yet, outside, but the air was heavy. Dean made sure they were far enough away that Sam wouldn't be able to eavesdrop, before blurting out, "I know ghosts are people, but can they ever be animals too?"

John shoved his hands into his pocket and frowned, considering. "Not that I've heard of, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen." He tilted his head, looking speculatively at Dean. "Why, what is it?"

Dean evaded the look with a mumbled, "Just wondering, 's'all," that he was fairly sure John didn't buy. There was a moment's silence, and then Dean said, "It's just..." and hesitated before going on. He hadn't really come up with the best place to start, which meant the story just kind of tumbled out, haphazard and out of order. He looked at John only once, and couldn't read the expression on his dad's face; he was listening intently, but there was something else there, and Dean looked away quickly.

"...and I didn't think anything was wrong, y'know? I mean, there were a few weird things, like she would disappear for stretches, but that's what cats do." Dean shrugged. "Except then you couldn't see her, even when she was right there, and I'm not really sure what's going on or what to do or anything." The last came out plaintively, making him sound young, and Dean chewed on his lip to keep himself from saying anything more.

John was silent for a long moment, thinking. "Okay," he said finally, holding up one hand as Dean started to speak. "You know what we have to do."

"Yes, sir." Dean swallowed hard, trying not to flinch. It wasn't a surprise, really, not once he'd figured out what was probably going on, but that didn't stop it from hurting just a little. "What are you going to tell Sammy?"

John's expression was closed, distant, like he was already on a hunt again. Which, Dean supposed, he sort of was. "Maybe the truth."

Dean clamped his mouth shut on the "yeah, that'll go over well" that wanted to slip out. One corner of John's mouth quirked up in a wry smile, like he'd said it anyway.

"Or maybe not. We can wait until he's asleep. You said the-- you said it disappeared sometimes, right?"

"And always came back," Dean pointed out.

John just looked at him, and said in a low voice, "Until tonight."

"Yes, sir," Dean said, and closed his eyes.


"What'd he say?" Sam demanded as soon as Dean went back inside. The cat was asleep on his bed, stretched out in a completely undignified belly-up position. "Did you talk to him?"

"I did." Dean didn't look at Sam. He sat on the bed and put his hand on the cat's stomach; she felt warm and alive, damn it, and Dean mumbled, hating himself, "--he said maybe," because what else was there to say, anyway?

"Dean, I--" Sam started to say, but Dean glared at him.

"He said maybe, and that's the best we're going to get, so just shut it, okay?"

The cat, without moving, opened one eye to look at Dean, a bright slit of suspicious green, and Dean wondered if it knew what was going on. What they were planning. It's just another job, he told himself fiercely, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was somehow betraying them-- the cat, Sam, himself even.


Dean could have sworn that the cat was asleep in Sam's bed when they left, but she also somehow managed to meet them outside, sitting directly in their path, motionless except for the twitching tip of her tail. The moon was just a sliver-crescent, so there wasn't much light, which meant Dean almost stepped on her before he saw her; he swore and shifted his weight, lost his balance and went down hard on one hip, cursing a bit more.

"I'm okay," he said, as John helped him back on his feet. "We've just got a little company, is all."

"The cat?"

"Yeah." Dean aimed his flashlight at her. She didn't even blink. "You still don't see her?"



John circled around where Dean's flashlight pointed, frowning down at the ground. One of the cat's ears twitched, but she didn't otherwise acknowledge him; her gaze was fixed on Dean.

"Well," John said after a moment, "this'll make one thing easier." He gave Dean a wry, humorless smile. "Finding the bones. We can just wander around until it tries to stop us."

Dean scowled at him. "Very funny, dad." The cat was standing now, tail curving in an imperious question mark over her back, still looking at Dean. "I think she wants us to follow her."

"Any idea where?"

"There's one way to find out." Dean made a go-on gesture with his flashlight, and the cat, as if understanding, started to walk away, slowly enough that they could follow. "Dad," he said hesitantly, as they walked. "I... why are we doing this?"

John gave him a surprised look. "All spirits deserve to be put to rest." His voice is very quiet. "You know that."

"Yeah." Dean sighed. He knew he should just drop it, do what his dad said, deal with Sam in the morning. But the cat turned and gave him a look, and how sad was it that Dean could practically hear Cat telling him what to say. He winced and didn't look at his dad. "It's just, she isn't hurting anyone, and she's just a cat, and I don't think we need to be doing this."

John stopped walking. He was frowning, but more perplexed than upset. "This isn't like you, Dean. What's this about?"

It's about Sam being happy for once, Dean almost says. Doesn't, because he can't figure out how to say it without hurting his dad, and that's not really the point. "What if it's not a spirit? What if it's, I dunno, a protector or something?"

"Because nothing like that exists," John snaps. "Dean, we're doing this. I know it's hard to understand sometimes, but these are things we gotta do, okay?"

There were several things Dean could think of to say in reply, but he just mumbled assent instead. It still didn't feel right to him, but he knew his dad had a lot more experience with this sort of thing; if John said something had to be done, then that was just the way of things.

"Good." John put his hand on Dean's shoulder and squeezed. "Hey, is your friend still here?"

Dean glanced around. "Yeah." He almost laughed; Cat was glaring at them impatiently, and if she'd been human she would have been telling them to hurry the hell up. "Over there."


The cat led them to a scattering of bones that could have been cat. Dean's throat closed over the sight. He'd been half hoping that she was leading them somewhere else, to some sort of proof that she was okay, was good to have around.

The cat stood over the bones, expectant, waiting. Dean looked away. "I thought spirits didn't ever want to be put to rest," he said. He was speaking as much to the cat as to his dad -- go away, don't do this, don't help us kill you -- but the cat didn't even twitch.

"Maybe animals are different." John shrugged.

"Yeah, but how do we know these are the right bones?"

"It led us here, didn't it? There's probably a reason." John poked at the skeleton with the tip of his boot. "Salt and burn and see what happens. Not like it'll do any harm." He pulled the equipment out of his pockets, salt and accelerant and matches. "Let me know if it starts doing anything, okay?"

"Sure," Dean said. He felt an irrational urge to apologise to the cat. He crouched down next to her, instead, and held out his hand, palm up. She sniffed his fingertips, rubbed her cheek against them, and Dean could feel the thrum of her purr when he started to scratch.

I'll miss you, he thought. He didn't dare say it, not with his dad five feet away shaking accelerant over the bones, but he thought it as hard as he could, and the cat made a satisfied *mrow* at him.

Dean stood up when the fire started, backing away a bit so he'd be ready if something happened, but the cat didn't do anything. She just stood there, watching him, and slowly faded out.

It's over, he told himself, except--

--except that Dean could have sworn the cat winked at him; and he was damn sure that she vanished like the cheshire cat, grin lingering at the end, which wasn't the way ghosts went. But he kept his mouth shut on both of those, and when John looked at him, he just shrugged and said, "She's gone."

And Sam would kill them both.


Sam didn't seem to mind Cat's disappearance in the morning; he was as used to her vanishing act as Dean was. But then John said, "Pack up, we're moving on," and Sam's expression darkened to something close to mutinous.

"Not without--" he started, and glanced swiftly at Dean, unsure. "Not yet. We're waiting."

"We're not waiting," John told him briskly. "Pack up."

Sam sat down on the bed, arms folded, glowering, a thunderstorm brewing in his expression. Dean crouched next to him. "Hey," he said, softly enough that John wouldn't hear. "We can't wait, you know the rules."

Sam's face twisted. "But the cat," he said.

"I'll keep an eye out for her, I promise, but even if she doesn't come back? I'm sure she can take care of herself. Cats generally do." He hated the lie, but it was better than truth.

By the time they left, catless, Sam was crying. Dean sat next to him in the back seat, and put an arm around him and let Sam get his shirt wet, because that's what big brothers did. Even if they weren't already feeling guilty.

At one point, hiccupping a little, Sam said in a low tear-cracked voice, "You did something, didn't you? You and Dad. You got rid of her."

Dean could see John look sharply at him in the rear-view mirror, at that. He grimaced, and John quirked a smile at him but stayed silent.

Dean wasn't all that good at saying no -- not convincingly, not to Sam -- so he didn't even try. "Why would we have done that?" he asked, trying to make it sound like it was the most ridiculous concept he'd ever heard. "Look, I swear to you I have no idea where she is." Which was true enough.

Sam sniffled, but he seemed a bit mollified.

"That's the problem with cats, anyway," Dean said lightly, deliberately pitching his voice so it carried to the front seat. "They just up and leave you. Dogs, on the other hand--"

"We are not getting a dog," John said automatically, without even turning around. Dean snickered, and Sam smiled a little.

Dean waited until he was sure Sam had calmed down enough, and then said innocently, "Hey, look at it this way: at least she won't be demon fodder."

There was a pause, as they both digested the mental images that came along with that.

"I hate you," Sam said, and whacked him on the arm.


There was a thunderstorm that night, and Dean lay awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the wind and the rain and the occasional rumble of thunder, listening to his dad and brother sleep.

Listening for a plaintive *mrow* from outside.

Just in case.


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