Belling the Tiger (Gen Version)

by Juli

July 2006


Sam already knew in his bones that he was too late and the sound of his brother’s agonized scream only confirmed that. With a thudding heart, Sam managed a last spurt of speed, running full tilt up the stairs that led to the abandoned church’s turret. He had to get there before whatever was attacking Dean finished what it was doing. The door at the top of the stairs was already hanging open and Sam shouldered it aside. One hand gripping a gun and the other holding a bottle holy water, his eyes darted around the room, looking for his brother.

But the room was empty.

“Dean?” Sam called out, not bothering to hide the worry in his voice. He prowled around the edges of the large room, keeping the wall to his back as he scanned it for any sign of Dean. He quickly found something, but it was hardly the kind of discovery that was reassuring.

In the center of the room was a pile of clothes. Sam approached and toed at them, not wanting to drop either of his weapons. Underwear. Jeans. Blue t-shirt. Flannel shirt and leather jacket. The same clothes that Sam had watched Dean put on that morning.

“Dean?” Sam repeated, more concerned than ever.

Dean was hardly the type to stop and strip in the middle of a job. It wasn’t at all comforting that there were no burn marks or other signs of damage to the clothes. The salient fact was that they were empty and that was beyond worrisome.

“Meow.”

Sam jumped about a foot at the sound. He whirled and targeted his gun, only to find a cat sitting and looking at him. It was a big one, sleek and obviously very healthy. It had short fur, in an odd color of brown that almost looked golden. Large, luminous green eyes contemplated him seriously.

It was easily the finest feline specimen that Sam had ever seen, but other than identifying what it was, Sam ignored it. Dean was his primary concern at the moment.

The only entrance to the room that Sam could see was the door that he’d come through. Knowing that Dean hadn’t passed him on the stairs, Sam cautiously went to the windows. It was with a sigh of relief that he saw that the panes of glass were intact. Dean hadn’t taken a plunge to his death.

Something brushed against his leg and Sam jumped again. He looked down to find the cat had followed him to the window and rubbed up against him.

“Shoo.” Sam scolded the animal as he flapped his hands at it.

Ironically, he’d always wanted a pet growing up, but didn’t have the time at the moment to deal with a stray. Not with Dean possibly being in danger. Sam turned from the cat, trying to figure out what his next option for finding his brother was.

“Dean,” he muttered. “Where the hell are you?”

This time, it wasn’t a gentle rub at his leg that got Sam’s attention. It was a sharp prick, accompanied by another, “Meow.”

“Ouch!”

Sam whirled. He’d found the cat irritating before, but now that it had scratched him, he was tempted to kick it. It wasn’t humanitarianism that stopped him. There was a metallic glint at the cat’s neck that caught his attention and Sam stooped to get a better look. Rather than the usual pet tag, there was an asymmetric charm hanging from the leather thong around the cat’s neck.

A very familiar charm.

Eyes wide with shock, Sam looked at the cat more closely and found its green-eyed gaze locked on him with a glare that was also very familiar.

Sam had to swallow hard before he could say anything. “Dean?”

With a smug attitude, the cat sat back and started licking its paw, no doubt getting Sam’s blood off its claws. A very satisfied purr rumbled out as Sam sat down, his legs no longer capable of holding him upright.

His brother was a cat.

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Sam closed the door behind him with a sense of relief. It was simply another crappy motel room, but having just come from the church where Dean had been attacked, it at least felt safe. His chest felt heavy, but it wasn’t completely due to concern.

“Okay, here you go,” Sam said to his brother as he unzipped his jacket. Dean-the-cat jumped down onto the bed and immediately began licking his fur into place. “I’m sorry, but they have a no pet clause at this place. If anyone saw me bringing you in, they’d kick us both out.”

Dean stopped his licking long enough to glare at Sam and then resumed.

“Ah, hell.” Sam flopped onto the bed. Dean’s mind was clearly his own, even if he was trapped in a cat’s body. Seeing utterly human thoughts and emotions expressed on that feline face was downright eerie.

Something tickled. Sam opened his eyes to see Dean peering into his face, so close that his whiskers were brushing against Sam’s cheek. Sam could practically feel the heat from his glare; being trapped in a cat’s form hadn’t diluted it any.

“Okay, okay,” Sam capitulated as he sat up. “I know, get off my ass and look for an answer.”

Dean meowed impatiently and Sam grinned.

“All right,” Sam corrected himself. “That should have been ‘Get off your ass and look for an answer, *Geek Boy*.’”

The cat that was his brother made a satisfied chirrup noise and hopped down from the bed. While his laptop was powering up, Sam surreptitiously watched his brother stalk over to the room’s dresser and look up at it, tail lashing. Just as Sam was about to offer to help Dean, the cat jumped, leaping effortlessly onto the dresser.

Sam was impressed in spite of himself.

He watched as Dean stared at his changed self in the mirror. Gulping as it hit home that he might not see his brother in his real body again unless he got to work, Sam bent to his head to his computer. A few minutes later, he looked up as he was waiting for a webpage to load. Dean was still looking into the mirror.

“Yeah, you’re vain enough to be a cat all right,” Sam muttered.

He’d forgotten how acute a cat’s hearing was. Dean’s head swiveled around and those eyes were pinned on him again. Sam returned his attention to his computer, pretending he didn’t hear the soft thump as Dean jumped from the dresser. He was still pretending when Dean hopped up onto the bed and padded over to him.

“Well, you are,” Sam said defensively, refusing to look at his brother.

Sam was sitting on the bed, propped up against the headboard. Moving delicately for a relatively big cat, Dean scrambled up the pillows and behind Sam’s head. When he was done situating himself, Dean was draped across Sam’s shoulders. No doubt he wanted to be able to see the computer screen, but Sam didn’t even know if Dean’s feline eyes were able to discern print or not.

“Hey,” Sam protested. “Do you mind?”

Dean weighed at least 15 pounds by Sam’s estimate. That was a lot of weight to carry on his neck, but the longer Dean rested there, the more Sam got used to it. Dean was warm and soft and, after Sam’s complaint, he started to purr. Sam felt the vibration all the way to his toes.

“All right, you can stay,” he capitulated reluctantly. “Just watch where you put those claws.”

And in that odd, yet comforting, position the Winchester brothers started to research in earnest.

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Sam woke with a fuzzy head and an even fuzzier brother pillowed on his chest.

“Dude, get off me,” Sam poked at the cat.

Dean opened one lazy eye and just as languidly shut it.

“Dean, you either move of your own volition or I swear, I will move you,” Sam vowed.

Something in Sam’s voice must have told Dean that Sam was not above picking him up and dumping his feline ass on the floor. Dean moved. Partially because he was a cat, but mostly because he was Dean, he took his own sweet time. First, he had to stretch.

“You put any weight on my bladder and we are both going to regret it,” Sam warned him.

Dean blinked at him slowly, as only a cat could. Then, with as much dignity as if it had been his own idea, he stepped off Sam and onto the mattress.

Sam wasted no time scrambling off the bed and getting to the bathroom. Once he was done with his business, he came back into the room to find Dean curled up in the spot Sam had just vacated.

“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t think of this before,” Sam commented awkwardly. “Do I need to go get you a litterbox or something?”

Dean lifted his head and pinned Sam with a haughty glare.

“Okay, okay,” Sam held up his hands as if in self defense. “Forget I ever said anything. I’ll just . . . leave the lid up.”

They’d researched deep into the night. When it had gotten so he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore, Sam had put his laptop on the floor and fallen asleep fully clothed. As a result, he was feeling a dire need for a shower. It didn’t take but a moment to grab clean stuff to wear.

Before long, Sam was under the pounding hot water. If felt downright sinful, relaxing muscles that had been wound tight ever since Sam had discovered his brother’s altered state.

His ecstasy came to an abrupt and cruel end as the hot water turned suddenly cold.

“Gah!” Sam cried out, shaking the shampoo out of his eyes as he fumbled for the shower controls. “What the hell happened?”

With the shower off, Sam heard another noise that involved running water. Suspicious, he stuck his head out of the shower, heedless of the dripping foam of his shampoo. The toilet was flushing and, sitting next to it was a 15 pound cat wearing a totally human expression of complete satisfaction.

“Very funny,” Sam snarled. “I’ll remind you how hilarious this little prank was the next time you need something that requires hands.”

Dean’s smugness slipped a little.

“What? No snappy comeback?” Sam taunted. “That’s right, I forgot. Cat got your tongue.”

That last jibe had been childish, but at least it had made Sam feel better. He turned the water back on, but even though it quickly regained its former warmth, the pleasure was gone. Sam perfunctorily finished rinsing off and got out, drying and dressing with equal efficiency.

Dean was waiting for him when Sam came out of the bathroom. His brother wound himself around Sam’s legs, purring loud enough to wake the dead. He never could stay mad at Dean under the best of circumstances and now Dean was just so . . . cute.

Sam caved.

“All right, you’re forgiven,” Sam told him. Privately, he was wishing that Dean apologized quite this readily as a human. He supposed it had something to do with the fact that Dean didn't actually have to utter the words 'I'm sorry,' a phrase that seemed to stick in his throat.

Sam stooped to pet the cat, amazed at how the soft the thick fur was. “I’m going to grab us breakfast.”

He walked to the door, with Dean at his heels.

“No way,” Sam ordered firmly. “I’ll bring something back.”

Dean sat on his haunches, his kitty’s face inscrutable, but his tail lashing his frustration. Sam stifled a grin. Oh, how he’d love to be able to play poker with Dean now; that tail would be a hell of a tell.

“Have you ever seen a cat in a diner?” Sam asked pointedly. “You stay here, I’ll bring something back.”

His brother didn’t acknowledge that Sam had spoken, but he also didn’t try and follow again. Sam breathed a sigh of relief and headed out of the room. After checking that the ‘Do Not Disturb” placard was in place, he trotted across the road to the nearby convenience store. Once there, he was stymied.

What did a human-turned-cat eat anyway?

Dean’s normal eating preferences were easy; anything unhealthy. Sam’d always read that cats didn’t have a sweet tooth, but he loaded up on Twinkies and other Hostess products just in case. After grabbing a yogurt for himself, Sam dumped the whole pile on the counter.

That’s when he saw a copy of the local paper and knew they were screwed.

A few minutes later, Sam was barreling back into the motel room. The door slammed open and Dean hissed at him. The sound so startled Sam that he came to a complete stop and looked at his brother the cat.

Funny, he didn’t remember Dean looking quite so fluffy before.

“Sorry,” Sam apologized lamely, belatedly realizing his brother now had a cat’s reflexes.

Dean frantically licked at his fur, trying to get it to lie back down. A subdued Sam walked to the small table and gently placed his purchases on it. Ignoring the food for the moment, Sam grabbed the copy of the paper he’d bought.

“Sandi Wilson was found murdered last night,” Sam announced. “She couldn’t be the killer.”

They’d been drawn to this small town because of two men who’d been found dead. Both had been missing for several days before their bodies were found at the side of a road, but that wasn’t what had caught their interest. What made it a case for the Winchesters was the fact that bodies were desiccated as though they’d been dead for years, even though the men had only been gone for a couple of days. Being an ex-girlfriend of both of the deceased, Sandi Wilson had been their prime suspect, even though the police had ruled her out due to an iron clad alibi. Sam and Dean knew, however, that it was possible to sic a supernatural henchman onto a victim from afar, so the fact that Sandi had been giving lectures to her college class the nights both men had disappeared hadn’t meant much to them.

Her death, however, pretty much ruled her out as a suspect.

Fur under control, Dean started rooting around amongst the food packages. He was particularly keen on the Little Debbie Cakes, pawing at them hard enough to make the packaging crinkle loudly. Sam huffed in amusement and reached for them, opening the plastic and crumbling the cakes so that Dean could more easily eat them.

“Those things are gonna kill you someday,” Sam stated. Dean just looked at him briefly and licked a crumb from his whiskers.

For a few minutes, the Winchester boys ate in a silence that was comfortable, even though it was pretty much mandatory for one of them. In the end, Sam gave in and devoured a pair of HoHos after he finished his yogurt. The things were downright addictive.

“Look,” he proposed to Dean. “I’m going to have to go out and get some more information; there’s only so much I can find out in this motel room.”

Dean hopped down from the table and sauntered over to the bed, which he jumped onto with ridiculous ease. Sam wasn’t fooled for a minute. Dean’s nonchalance was an act, designed to hide how worried he was, just as the smartass mask he used on a daily basis as a human covered up how easily he was hurt.

Sam opened a couple of more snacks and scattered them on the table. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be gone, but at least Dean would have access to food. With that in mind, he went into the bathroom and ran some water in the sink. He also filled a glass and left it on the countertop, in case the sink’s stopper leaked.

By the time Sam came back into the bedroom, Dean was spread out on the bed, eyes half-lidded with a sleepy regal expression that clearly showed that he felt he owned the place.

Which just went to show that no matter how much things changed, some things remained constant.

Despite the direness of his brother's situation, that thought made Sam was smile as he left the room.

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It felt odd going out and investigating without Dean. Not that they each hadn’t had separate assignments before, but this was different. This time Dean couldn’t help and that made Sam feel very alone.

His first stop was the crime scene where Sandi Wilson had been found. It was her apartment, but unfortunately Sandi had lived in a very small building and pretty much the whole thing was cordoned off. Uniformed officers stood behind a barricade of yellow police tape, making anyone entering show an ID. Dean had gotten almost too good at making false identifications, but Sam wasn’t willing to chance it. Not with the close scrutiny being shown to those wanting to access the area.

“Damn,” he swore softly under his breath.

“Sucks, doesn’t it?”

The question, spoken from behind him, made Sam realize that he hadn’t cursed quietly enough. With a feeling of dread, he turned, fully expecting to be confronted by an overly curious police officer. Instead, he found himself face to face with an elderly-looking woman with bright red lipstick and a grocery bag under her arm.

“I just meant, I heard about Professor Wilson and it’s such a shame,” Sam explained wanly.

“Ain’t that the truth,” the newcomer nodded vigorously. “She was quiet as a church mouse, none of that jungle music blaring through the walls like my last neighbor.” She shook her head. “I won’t get that lucky with the next one.”

Sam’s interest increased. “You lived next door to Professor Wilson?”

“Yup,” the woman verified. “For going on two years.” She gave Sam an assessing look. “You one of her students?”

“Yes,” Sam lied through his teeth without batting an eye. “It was such a shock to read that she’d been killed. Do you know anything about what happened?”

“Not really, sugar,” the woman responded with a sorrowful shake of her head. “The police already questioned me.”

“I bet you know more than you think,” Sam encouraged her with a smile. “I’m a criminal justice major; I’d really appreciate the opportunity to put some of my classes to work on a real life case.”

“Well, we could discuss it over tea,” she responded to that smile as many women did. “My name is Milly.”

“Sam,” he introduced himself, taking the grocery bag from her before tucking Milly’s hand under his arm.

As a resident of the apartment building, Milly got them both past the police officer controlling the entrance. Sam craned his neck as they passed the open door of Sandi’s apartment, but there were too many cops milling around and he couldn’t see anything. His EMF meter, hidden in the palm of his hand, didn’t so much as flicker. Sam sighed and resigned himself to a morning of charming a woman old enough to be his grandmother.

Milly’s apartment was crammed full of stuff. They threaded their way through haphazardly piled boxes and stacks of magazines before coming to the sofa. Milly insisted that Sam be seated while she got the tea ready and he looked around in awe as she puttered in the kitchen. He’d never seen so much crap in his life, but then again, the Winchester lifestyle didn’t lend itself to the accumulation of things. He grinned as he looked at the nearest mound of magazines, noticing that they were all the tabloid type. He was tempted to take one for Dean, knowing his brother would get a chuckle out of some of the headlines. Sam was actually reaching for one when it occurred to him that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Dean was kind of living a tabloid story at the moment.

“Here you go,” Milly said as she handed Sam cup of tea.

Sam took it awkwardly. Most of the time he enjoyed being tall, but the delicate china made him feel awkward, like his hands were far too big.

“You want a shot of bourbon in that?” Milly asked. When Sam just blinked at her in surprise, Milly shrugged and grinned. “Beats the hell out of lemon.”

“No thanks,” Sam replied weakly. “I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself,” Milly grabbed a bottle from the china cabinet and poured herself a generous dollop.

“Did you hear anything unusual last night?” Sam asked after Milly had taken a swig of her spiked drink. Privately, he thought that, after a couple cups of “tea,” it would be a miracle if Milly had heard anything at all.

He therefore wasn’t too surprised when Milly just shook her head.

“No, I didn’t even know Sandi was home last night,” she explained. “She spends a lot of her nights in beds other than her own, if you know what I mean.”

“Ah, so she wasn’t all that broken up about the deaths of her ex-boyfriends,” Sam commented.

One of Milly’s eyebrows went up. “I wouldn’t know about that. I just know since the scandal last year, Sandi’s had a lot of boyfriends.”

“Scandal?” Sam asked. “What scandal?”

Milly’s eyes narrowed in suspicion and she set her teacup down with a clatter. “Are you sure you’re one of Sandi’s students? I thought they were still talking about that up at the school.”

Sam thought fast. As his eyes darted around the room, they rested on a pile of magazines and he relaxed as he thought of the perfect cover.

“You caught me,” he admitted. Sam leaned forward as he spoke to Milly in a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m actually a reporter here on assignment.”

Milly’s eyes grew wide with amazement. “A reporter?”

“Yes. I wish I could tell you more, but this is a big story,” Sam made it obvious as his eyes slid over to the nearest stack of magazines and he rubbed the side of his nose. “My editor wants this to be hush-hush until we break it.”

“Oh, I understand,” Milly gushed. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Sam felt a slight twinge of guilt for duping the gullible woman, but told himself it was for a good cause. “Could you tell me more about the scandal?”

“It was about a romantic relationship,” Milly stated and then stopped.

Sam grimaced. His new friend had been more helpful when she thought he was a lowly student. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Milly shook her head. “It was who she had the relationship with that got tongues to wagging.” She lowered her voice. “Talk was that she was hitting the sack with Dr. Lewis, the curator of the museum.”

Still not seeing the scandal, Sam frowned. “And was this guy married or something?”

That comment caused Milly to giggle. “Oh, sugar, Dr. Lewis isn’t a guy, if you know what I mean.”

It took a moment for it to sink in. Sam blinked. “Oh.”

“It never bothered me none,” Milly went on to explain. “I watch ‘Will & Grace,’ you know. I never lost any sleep over the fact that Sandi wanted to take the fuzz off the peach, if you know what I mean. I’m enlightened.”

She was utterly serious, but Sam was hard-pressed not to grin. “It’s too bad there aren’t more like you, Milly.”

“Damn straight,” Milly retorted and it was even harder for Sam not to smile at the pun, finding it all the funnier because she was totally oblivious to what she’d said. “Anyways, the college, it’s a Catholic one. They don’t cotton to that kind of thing. Sandi almost lost her job and she’s spent the time since hopping in and out every male-occupied bed she could find. Trying to prove it false, I suppose.”

“Tell me about Dr. Lewis,” Sam requested. He still wasn’t sure if this piece of news was significant or not. It did make him sad, to think it was more acceptable for Sandi to be a slut than a lesbian.

Milly shook her head. “I’ve never met her, but she’s in the paper all the time. She’s our own personal Indiana Jones.”

Sam frowned. “Didn’t the scandal hurt her too?”

“Not really,” Milly explained. “She’s published a book and everything. She’s real popular around here and, besides, her family donated a lot of money to the museum over the years.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I hear tell that Dr. Lewis wasn’t too happy when Sandi dumped her to save what was left of her reputation.”

“And how about the boyfriends?” Sam asked. “Did any one of them stick out in your mind as unusual?”

“It wasn’t like Sandi and I were friends,” Milly claimed. “I never met any of the fellas she brought home.” She shook her head sadly. “Poor dear didn’t deserve to die that way, though. Cut to ribbons like that.”

Sam had been taking a drink of his rapidly cooling tea and almost choked on it. “What do you mean, ‘cut to ribbons’?” He asked. “Wasn’t Sandi desiccated, like the others?”

“If you mean was she mummified like poor Brandon Sparks or Billy Turner, no.” Milly clarified. “I came running when the poor UPS delivery man found her. It was like she was clawed by some big cat.”

Sam questioned Milly for several more minutes, but found out nothing more of interest. With genuine gratitude, he bid her farewell, promising to spell her name correctly if he quoted her in his nonexistent article.

As Sam passed Sandi Wilson’s apartment, there was a break in the action and he got a peek inside. Milly was right, there was blood everywhere. Mostly, it appeared to have been randomly splattered, but from what Sam could see, there was one area that seemed to have a pattern. He thought it looked familiar, maybe a symbol of some sort, but before he could get a better look, a police officer noticed his interest.

“Sir, are you a resident?” The cop demanded.

“No, I was just escorting my aunt inside,” Sam replied, repeating the excuse that Milly’d used when they came in.

“Well, if she’s safely to her apartment, you’d best move along,” the police officer ordered. “This is still an active crime scene.”

“Yes, sir,” Sam meekly said and beat a hasty retreat.

Once Sam was out of sight of the apartment building, he trotted to the Impala and made a beeline for the library. It was a fairly decent facility and Sam immediately hit the local sources. His mind was still refusing to cough up where he’d seen that pattern before, so Sam concentrated on the infamous Dr. Lewis.

Again, Milly had been right.

There was lots of local press on Dr. Katherine Lewis, who went by “Kat” to her friends. The woman was a scion of one of the city’s founders. In fact, her family had funded the museum she was a curator for, but apparently it wasn’t only nepotism that got her the job. She’d written numerous articles and participated in several archeological digs. The most recent article about her in the newspaper highlighted a discovery she’d made in Egypt.

As soon as he saw the photo that accompanied the article, Sam knew where he’d seen the pattern drawn in Sandi Wilson’s blood.

By the time Sam finished researching, he could tell by the long shadows that it was late afternoon. Satisfied that he was on the right track, he decided to call it quits for the day. It was time to go back and update Dean. His brother wasn’t a patient man and there was no reason to believe that had changed, even though he was a cat.

Sam was thinking of Dean as he left the library. That was probably why a public notice taped to the door caught his attention. It was normally nothing he’d pay attention to, but given his brother’s current state, it caught his eye.

“Oh, no,” Sam murmured as he read it. Dean was so going to have a hissy fit over this.

Sam was still thinking about it and distracted when he got to the Impala. When he put the key in the ignition, he cranked the engine more than he should have. Sam winced as he heard the car grind as if to protest the rough treatment.

“You miss him too, don’t you old girl?” Sam stroked the dashboard when the car smoothed out. “We’ll get him back, I promise.”

But Sam didn’t know who he was trying to reassure, himself or the damn car.

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Sam was much more careful when he returned to the motel room, remembering how he’d startled Dean that morning. As a result, his entrance was a lot less dramatic. In fact, Dean was still ensconced in the unmade bed and only lifted his head to blink lazily at his brother as Sam returned. The lone piece of evidence that Dean had even moved at all was the fact that some of the snacks Sam’d left were gone.

That worried Sam a little. His brother was not one to laze around all day. In fact, that was why Sam tended to do the heavy-duty research, because it was difficult for Dean to sit, physically inactive, for long stretches of time. Being content to sleep all day was out of character for Dean Winchester, the human. Did that mean that Dean’s new feline characteristics were beginning to affect him?

Since he was already committed to reverting Dean back to his true self, Sam tried to put aside his concern. He was already doing everything he could; there was no sense borrowing trouble. Even so, he resolved to keep an eye on it.

“Hey, you would not believe what I found out today,” Sam greeted his brother. He walked over to the table and brushed aside the remnants of breakfast to make room for a large box containing their dinner.

Sam had gotten pizza. Not just any pizza, but he’d indulged himself in his favorite, anchovy. Sam’d gotten hooked on it in college, but the first time he’d tried to order the topping when he’d started hunting with Dean again, his brother had thrown a big stink, claiming it was against God and Mother Nature alike to put fish on pizza. Sam watched as Dean-the-cat sniffed enthusiastically at the box and even pawed at it. He obligingly opened it and put one piece on the lid, watching with amusement as his brother dove right in, delicately gobbling the anchovies first. Chuckling, Sam helped himself to a piece and closed his eyes in delight as the salty, cheesy pizza flavor filled his mouth.

As soon as he’d assuaged the worst of his hunger, Sam launched into an explanation of his interview with Milly.

“All right, here’s what I found out at Sandi Wilson’s place,” he reported to Dean. “Which, by the way, didn’t cause a peep from the EMF. First, she had a lot of boyfriends in an attempt to make everyone in town forget the lesbian affair she had with a museum curator.”

Dean stopped gobbling anchovies long enough to look at Sam in bright-eyed interest, licking his chops as he made a chirruping noise.

“Yeah, I thought that would get your attention,” Sam smirked. Despite his current form, it figured that Dean was still horn dog enough to find the idea of two women together appealing. “And, get this, Sandi wasn’t killed the same way her two ex’s were. She was attacked by something with claws. It literally ripped her apart. And whatever it was, it left a pattern in her blood.”

It was weird giving an explanation to a brother who couldn’t ask questions or make a smartass comment. Sam sighed. Hopefully, the situation wouldn’t be going on too much longer. He was surprised at how much he missed Dean’s banter.

“So, I went to the library to check things out,” Sam continued. “Turns out that this former girlfriend of Sandi’s returned recently from a dig in Egypt.” He grabbed his backpack and dug out a printout he’d made at the library. “Look at this.”

It was a picture of Katherine “Kat” Lewis and, even in the low quality print, she was a striking woman. Strong features, long hair and eyes that seemed blaze right off the page. Around her neck was a necklace of Egyptian origin and Sam tapped his finger on that portion of the photo.

“This is what reminded me of what that pattern drawn in the blood was,” he explained. “It’s a sistrum, the Egyptian symbol for the goddess Bast.”

Dean just blinked, so Sam went on.

“It fits, Dean. Bast wasn’t just the goddess of cats. At varying times, she was the goddess of sex, fertility and birth; physical pleasures; was the protector goddess of lower Egypt; goddess of the moon and, not incidentally, the goddess of lesbians.” Sam saved his best point for last. “And she was often depicted as a woman with the head of a lion.”

“We haven’t been chasing a spirit, Dean,” Sam summarized. “We’ve been hunting a deity.”

Dean sneezed, which Sam concluded was the feline version of laughing in his face.

“Think about it,” Sam asserted. “The EMF didn’t so much as twitch in any of the areas where the bodies were found, meaning it’s a different kind of supernatural energy here than what we’ve dealt with before. We’ve been hunting a demon our whole lives, why is a goddess that much more difficult to believe? Besides, there’s nothing that says that the Egyptians were worshipping a real goddess; it could have been a demon or spirit of some sort all along.”

“Kat Lewis is a bitter, jilted lover who recently came across a way to not only make Sandi pay for dumping her, but also to punish those who’d been in Sandi’s bed,” Sam theorized. “And you being turned into a . . . .” He couldn’t quite manage to make himself say it. “What happened to you makes sense too.”

They’d interviewed Sandi Wilson, of course, shortly after they’d hit town. Dean had used his typical interview technique for questioning a pretty woman, he’d flirted. Sam figured that Kat Lewis somehow knew about it and, while they’d been investigating, she had found a way to make Dean pay for that flirtation. Sam’s biggest fear was that, in a few days, Dean would revert to human form, but die, a dried out husk like the other two men.

“According to the story in the paper, she found that necklace in a recent dig in Egypt,” Sam told his brother. “The Egyptian government let her keep it because of her stature as an author and all the positive publicity it brought them. We need to get that necklace, I’m sure it’s the source of her control over this manifestation of Bast that she’s using to attack people.” He sighed deeply and he pulled out another sheath of papers and spread them out on the table. “I just don’t know how. I figure the best time is at night, when she takes it off to go to bed. I drove by her place, though, and the security there rivals a museum’s.”

Dean walked across the table, his purr a loud rumble in the small room. Sam watched as Dean pranced across the map of Lewis’ neighborhood, amused when Dean sat directly on the square that depicted their enemy’s house.

“Meow.”

It was a firm meow. Clearly it was intended as a statement and not a question.

“What?” Sam asked. “You want to do it?”

Dean meowed again and Sam thought about it. He smiled slowly as something occurred to him. “A cat burglar, huh? I guess that could work.”

It wasn’t a half bad idea. As a cat, Dean could get into places that a human couldn’t, especially since security systems were designed to keep out the two-footed type of predators. Of course, since Dean didn’t have hands, Sam would have to be nearby to help, but he would’ve been anyway. Cat or man, Sam had Dean’s back.

The newly formed plan, however, also brought up a less pleasant topic. Sam took a deep breath as he mentally girded his loins to have the conversation he needed to have with Dean. His brother was not going to like this, not going to like it at all.

“I stopped by the pet store,” he stated as casually as he could.

Dean wasn’t fooled for a second. He’d begun licking a paw and using it to clean his whiskers, but stopped his movements in order to give Sam a suspicious glare. His paw was held steady in mid-air as the cat regarded his brother.

Sam swallowed heavily. “I got you this,” he explained as he held up a small metal object.

It was a pet tag that read ‘My name is Dean. I belong to Sam’ and it had Sam’s cellphone number on it. Sam had opted for the simple silver-toned disk, knowing what his brother’s likely reaction would likely have been to the cutesy heart-shaped version.

Dean hated it anyway.

The cat hissed at Sam, the noise seeming to startle them both. Dean hopped off the table and stalked a few feet from Sam, sitting with his back to the other Winchester. His tail was lashing furiously.

“Do you know what they do to stray pets?” Sam asked, exasperated. “I saw a public notice about it at the library. They neuter them, Dean. Do yourself a favor and wear the damn tag.”

Dean’s tail had stopped twitching at the word ‘neuter.’ After Sam finished speaking, he meekly came back to where Sam was still sitting, tail down in a posture of defeat. He jumped onto his brother’s lap and stretched his neck out, the very picture of feline cooperation.

With shaking fingers, Sam unfastened the leather thong holding Dean’s amulet and added the tag. He tied it tightly and then did something he’d been longing to do ever since realizing his brother’d been transformed. His buried his face in Dean’s soft fur, comforted to discover that, while so much else had changed, his brother retained the scent that was uniquely Dean.

Dean purred loudly and rubbed the top of Sam’s head with his face. The whiskers tickled and the sensation helped bring Sam out of his sudden funk.

“We’ll get you back, Dean,” Sam vowed. “I promise. If it’s the last thing I do.”

And, if there was any justice in the world, he’d make Kat Lewis pay in the process.

>^^< >^^< >^^< >^^< >^^<

“Dean, you need to stay focused.”

It had seemed like a good idea in the motel room. Dean, in his altered form, would have an easier time of sneaking past Katherine Lewis’ sophisticated security system. Unfortunately, what neither Winchester brother had anticipated was the affect being outdoors would have on Dean.

Sam had been concerned earlier when Dean had been so content with being indolent all day. He’d been startled a little later when Dean had hissed and, in retrospect, he should have been worried then too. Dean Winchester did not hiss, even if he was a cat. Growl, yes. Hell, he did that as a man. Claw, definitely. Sam could see his brother doing that, especially if he felt something was threatening him or Sammy. But hiss? It seemed wimpy and wimpiness simply was not Dean’s nature.

Lewis’ house was in a much better neighborhood than their motel and Sam had driven them in the Impala. He parked it a couple of blocks away, near a public park, and they’d started walking the distance to the residence. The park had a low brick wall around it and at first Dean had been content to trot along it, bringing him to about waist-height to Sam instead of ground level. It was twilight and as they walked on, man and cat, it was obvious that the sounds of the growing evening were distracting Dean. His ears were in constant motion, swiveling to and fro in response to sounds that Sam couldn’t discern. He’d stop as he heard or saw something particularly interesting, his slitted pupils dilating in interest. Those pauses were becoming more and more frequent and Sam was becoming increasingly concerned that his cat nature was overwhelming Dean’s personality.

“Come on, you’ve got to hold it together,” Sam implored. “Or maybe we should just go back to the motel and I’ll find a different way.”

“Oh, that’s so cute!”

Sam whipped around. A female jogger had approached and stopped. She was a buxom blonde and her ample chest was heaving as she jogged in place. To Sam’s chagrin, she was staring avidly at Dean.

“I think it’s absolutely adorable the way you’re taking your cat for a walk,” the woman gushed. “And you talk to him too. I do that with my cats and I always get the feeling that they understand what I’m saying.”

“Uh, yeah,” Sam responded awkwardly. He was relieved that the jogger was wearing headphones, although she had them pushed back at the moment in order to talk to him. While she’d been aware that Sam was speaking to the cat, she clearly hadn’t heard exactly what had been said. “I swear he understands every word that comes out of my mouth.”

As for Dean, he was preening at the attention, stretching so that his sleek fur caught what was left of the light. Sam sighed. Dean was vain enough to lap up flirtation like it was nectar from the gods. And that was before he was a cat.

She giggled. “And he’s such a handsome boy too, aren’t you fella?” Her voice took on a sing-song quality as she addressed Dean directly. “You’re such a sweet pussy wussy little pooty-boo. I bet you’re just a wovable wittle tweety baby doll, yes you are.”

Dean’s ears had gone back at the first syllable of baby talk and when the woman reached out to pet him, he growled and took a swipe at her with his paw. Thankfully, he kept his claws sheathed, so there was no blood.

“Hey!” She cried out, jumping back. “Your cat almost scratched me.”

“That’s what he’s supposed to do, ma’am,” Sam said, thinking fast. The last thing he needed was to go on some police report as having a dangerous pet. Not when he was planning a burglary in this neighborhood. “He’s part of a new program to train attack cats for the Homeland Security Department.”

“Attack cats?” She looked from Dean to Sam suspiciously. “I’ve never heard of an attack cat.”

“Exactly,” Sam stated, keeping as serious expression as he could manage. “No one has. It’s a stealth sort of thing, very hush-hush. We’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t describe to anyone what you’ve seen here tonight.”

“We?” She asked, eyes darting nervously around.

Sam gestured with his chin to a van conveniently parked nearby. “Yes, ma’am. We. This is a training exercise designed to determine the feline operative’s effectiveness.”

“All right, I won’t tell anyone,” she stammered as she put her headphones back on. “I’ll just be on my way.”

“That’s probably best, ma’am,” Sam replied. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

He and Dean kept an eye on her as the woman jogged out of sight. When she was well and truly gone, Sam turned to his brother in exasperation.

“Are you ready to get down to business?” He demanded. “Or are you too busy being someone’s pooty-boo?”

Dean started stalking forward again, this time keeping his focus on where he was going. Sam had to walk fast to keep up with him and it didn’t take long to reach the Lewis house. Thankfully there were enough trees and shrubbery to give them cover as they made their way to the back of the house to more closely scout out the territory.

“Look over there,” Sam pointed. “She’s got motion sensors, but they’re set at three feet. You can get through those easy.”

In fact, looking at the set-up from a cat’s perspective, it looked remarkably simple. It took another couple of hours before full dark set in and all the lights in the house to go out. Luckily, Sam had brought the printouts from his Bast research with him to keep himself occupied and they were just close enough to a street light that he could read them. Dean didn’t have that option and since they didn’t want to risk Sam reading out loud to his brother, Dean instead curled up on Sam’s lap. He didn’t go to sleep, however. Those mobile ears of his were in almost constant motion and Sam could feel tremors going through his brother’s feline body. He started petting Dean, mostly as a way to keep him grounded, but it comforted him almost as much.

Finally, conditions were right for Dean to go in to the house. It was almost anticlimactic. As a cat, he easily made his way under the motion sensors, used his claws to climb up the screen on the porch and wormed his way under a slightly open window. That was the roughest time for Sam, when his brother went out of his sight. He chewed on his thumbnail for the innumerable minutes that Dean was in the house. It only seemed like forever, though. A few minutes later, Sam spotted Dean at the window. He watched, heart in his mouth, as the cat made his way back down and across the back yard, never once losing his grip on the golden necklace gripped in his mouth.

“Good job,” Sam praised Dean as his brother made a triumphant jump back into his lap. He petted Dean enthusiastically, knowing from the loud purr that his brother was similarly pleased. “Come on, let’s go back to the motel before she figures out what happened.”

They got back to the car with similar ease and, a few minutes later, were safely returned to their room. Once there, Sam laid the necklace out on the table. Agitated, Dean paced at his feet, mewing impatiently. Sam sighed. He’d figured something out when he’d re-read his Bast research and knew that Dean was going to be disappointed.

“Look, Dean, I know you’re anxious to be yourself again,” Sam squatted so he was more at the cat’s eye level. “And I think having the necklace will do that for us. All we have to do is destroy it and Katherine Lewis’ hold over the Bast manifestation will be over. You’ll be free.”

Dean chirruped and jumped on the table, walking over to the necklace and nosing at it. “Meow.”

“But we can’t do it yet,” Sam added reluctantly as he straightened to his full height.

“Meow?” There was a definite questioning note in Dean’s tone.

“Bast was the goddess of the moon,” Sam explained. “And there was a time when she was the goddess of the sun too. We can’t destroy the necklace when either of those are present; she could manifest and stop us. We’ll have to wait until a night when there’s no moon.”

Dean flopped gracelessly on the table. “Meee-ow.”

“Yeah, I know, it sucks,” Sam walked over to the table and stroked his hand down Dean’s soft flank. “But it really is for the best. Two more days, Dean. You can handle that, no problem.”

He kept up his petting until Dean turned to look at him. Those luminous green eyes were so sad that, in spite of the risk of offending him, Sam stroked the top of Dean’s head. Dean nuzzled Sam’s hand and licked his brother’s fingers.

Sam sighed mentally, wishing there was someone to reassure him like he was reassuring Dean. His brother had been a cat for only one day and already had lost some human characteristics. How many more would he lose in the next two days? By the time Sam could destroy the necklace, his brother might be, for all practical purposes, gone.

“I’ll be with you, every step of the way,” Sam promised.

And he would, no matter what.

>^^< >^^< >^^< >^^< >^^<

Sam knew what hell was and it wasn’t a small, crappy motel room decorated with colors that hadn’t been popular in decades. That didn’t even come close. The real hell was watching his brother lose piece after piece of his humanity and not be able to stop it from happening.

Whether it was Dean’s trip outdoors that accelerated the process or if it would have happened anyway was a mystery. All Sam knew was that there was less and less human intelligence in Dean’s eyes as time wore on. Forty-eight hours had never seemed like an eternity before, but now had become the all encompassing goal of Sam Winchester’s life. He knew instinctively that if he didn’t help Dean keep at least a shred of his humanity by the time the necklace was destroyed, then Dean was truly lost.

After their successful burglary, Sam had taken Dean back to the motel and Dean had seemed happy enough to go. There’d been no mischief when Sam showered and the night had passed without incident. The next day, however, Sam had noticed a definite deterioration in his brother’s condition. Rather than being content to loll around in bed all day, Dean had been restless. He prowled around the edge of the room, occasionally yowling his unhappiness. The sound was loud enough that Sam turned up the television in order to cover it up. The housekeeping staff were already giving Sam funny looks for constantly having the “Do Not Disturb” sign up, he didn’t want to raise their suspicions any more than he already had.

After suffering through an hour of watching Dean’s pacing, Sam finally coaxed Dean back onto the bed with him. Once there, Sam lay down and Dean climbed on top of him. As a cat, Dean was long enough that his head and front paws could rest on Sam’s chest and the rest of him stretched down Sam’s torso. Although Dean was clearly enjoying the contact, it wasn’t enough. Dean was tense, as though he were ready to jump down and start pacing again.

So Sam began to talk.

Sam said anything and everything that come to mind. Reassurances. Plans for the future. Regrets. Sam didn’t think it mattered what actual words came out of his mouth; it was his voice that was calming Dean. At times he detected a flicker of his brother’s personality in the cat’s eyes and wondered how much of it Dean would remember later, when he returned to human form.

When Dean returned to human form. Not if. Never if.

Dean began purring soon after Sam started to talk, his green eyes half-slitted in pleasure as Sam’s words washed over him and Sam’s hands stroked him. Sam talked until he was hoarse and then simply continued in a whisper. He whispered until his voice was completely gone and had to make do with just petting Dean, hoping his touch would anchor his brother as much as his voice had. Eventually, they both slept.

When Sam woke, there was no warm, purring weight on his chest. Dean was back to his restless pacing again. Sam sighed and closed his eyes for a minute to gather his inner strength. Then he rose from the bed and picked up his brother, starting the whole process all over again.

As much as he was loathe to, it became necessary to leave Dean in order to get some supplies. He felt like a traitor, but Sam shut Dean in the bathroom while he was gone. Even with the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, he didn’t want to risk the maid coming in and accidentally letting Dean out. With the way his brother was now, Sam wasn’t sure that Dean would come back.

Sam didn’t bother getting fast food or pizza. He had another day and a half to get through with his brother’s increasingly cat-like behavior and had no intentions of leaving Dean more than necessary. This time, he hit a grocery store and bought some canned goods, enough to get them through a couple of days. He categorically refused, however, to buy a litterbox. Dean didn’t seem to need it and, although Sam was aware that some cats could be trained to use the toilet, he preferred to consider it Dean holding on to his dignity.

When he returned to the motel room, Sam immediately shut the door behind him and let Dean out of the bathroom. Dean stalked out on stiff legs, the haughty glare he shot Sam was pure Winchester.

“I’m sorry,” Sam apologized as he dumped the grocery bags onto the table. It just felt natural by then to talk to Dean, although he was no longer certain his brother completely understood. “You have to admit . . . you haven’t been yourself lately.”

Dean twisted around and started licking his butt. Sam wasn’t sure if it was purely a cat thing his brother needed to do or if it was Dean’s way of making a rude gesture, since he didn’t have hands. In any case, he decided to ignore it and turned his attention to the supplies. Digging around in the nearest bag, Sam dug out a can of tuna and a package of plastic forks. He opened both and almost immediately had company on the table. Dean had his usual take no prisoners attitude when it came to food.

“Hey, we’re going to share,” Sam admonished him. He sat in the chair pulled up to the table and waited until Dean sat, however impatiently, across from him.

Sam shoved Dean away as his brother tried to get his nose into the can. “Nah-uh. None of that.” He dipped the fork into the tuna and then fed the bite to Dean. The cat lapped delicately at the eating utensil. “One for you.” Sam waited until Dean had cleaned the fork off and dipped it again, this time eating the bite himself. “And one for me.”

Together, they finished the can. It wasn’t much of a dinner, but Sam was too worried to be hungry. He would have liked to just go to bed and pull up the covers over his head, knowing it would be another day closer to getting his Dean back when he woke up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. The side effect of having an afternoon nap meant that Sam wasn’t sleepy. Given the nature of their work, being mostly nocturnal was part and parcel with their work anyway.

Dean was also wide awake and there wasn’t enough left of Sam’s voice to calm him. He renewed his prowling and there was nothing Sam could do about it. Sam was too keyed up to do research anyway, so he ended up keeping the laptop off and just flipping through the cable channels. Luckily one was playing Ghosbusters, Dean’s favorite. Sam didn’t like it nearly as much, but watching the movie made him feel closer to his brother.

Sam felt a slight dip in the mattress and turned his head to find that Dean had joined him. He smiled and stroked the sleek fur, pleased when Dean curled up next to him, eyes fixed on the screen. In a way, it felt oddly familiar. The two Winchester boys, stuck in a crappy motel room, watching a movie just about as old as they were.

Neither Sam nor Dean got much sleep. The movie held Dean’s interest, but after it was over, he hopped down from the bed and resumed pacing. Sam flipped through the channels, hoping to find something else that would catch Dean’s attention, but no such luck.

Some time after midnight, however, Dean did find something that fascinated him. Sam woke from a light doze and realized that Dean was no longer pacing. Concerned, he got out of bed to investigate and found his brother crouched near a corner, staring at a crack at the bottom of the wall.

“Hey, what did you find?” Sam asked softly, moving quietly to hunker down next to his sibling.

Dean ignored him. Not so much as an ear or whisker twitched.

Sam couldn’t help but smile. If he’d ever needed proof that his brother was a natural born hunter, this was it. Even so, he hoped that whatever poor little critter Dean had cornered was smart enough to stay out of reach.

“Have fun,” Sam told Dean, yawning hugely and stretching as he straightened. “But I swear to God, if you eat a mouse, I’m not going to feel sorry for you if you get a stomach ache.”

Sam returned to bed, but slept only fitfully. Every time he woke, he had checked on Dean, but his brother stayed near the corner, showing more patience as a cat than he’d ever had as human. Since he wasn’t awakened by any rodent death shrieks, Sam could only conclude that Dean’s first hunt as a cat had been unsuccessful.

Dean’s first and, if Sam had anything to say about it, last hunt as a cat.

“Better luck next time,” Sam said insincerely to Dean as he gave his brother’s ears a good morning rub.

Sam was prepared for a repeat of the day before, with the restless pacing and endless hours that stretched out to eternity. He hadn’t factored in the fact that, although Sam had gotten little sleep, Dean had gotten none. After they shared a package of Pop Tarts for breakfast, Dean had gone back to the bed, snuggling down into the nest of messed up blankets.

“To hell with it,” Sam muttered under his breath. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

With little guilt, Sam joined the purring cat in the bed. It wasn’t like they had anything to do all day anyway, except wait. If they could spend some of that time sleeping, so much the better. As soon as it got dark, the necklace could be destroyed and Dean would be free.

It was after lunchtime when hunger woke Sam. Another can was shared, this time of sardines and Sam was glad that the cat-friendly diet would soon be over. He was always trying to get Dean to eat healthier and fish was supposed to be good for you, but enough was enough. Unfortunately, with food in his belly, Dean’s restlessness returned and Sam began to get worried about how he would transport the agitated cat.

Sam’s research had revealed that the best locale to destroy the necklace, and hopefully negate its effects on Dean, was where the spell had originally transformed him. That meant going back to the abandoned church. The whole reason they’d been exploring the church in the first place was because of reports of strange lights and noises going on. They’d figured it as a likely hideout for someone trying to mask supernatural activity and, as it turned out, they’d been right. Sam still kicked himself for suggesting that they separate to cover more ground. If he’d been with Dean, maybe this never would have happened.

It was hard, but Sam had to admit to himself that more of Dean’s personality was gone than he was comfortable with. Just wrestling an unwilling Dean into the bathroom the day before had proven a struggle; Sam wasn’t confident that he’d be able to get a 15 pound cat into the church and up the stairs to where they needed to go. Sighing, he got dressed and lured Dean into the bathroom with the remnants of their lunch. He barely got the door shut before Dean started pounding on it and, with the size of his brother’s paws, he could make a lot of noise.

“Sorry about that,” Sam apologized. “You’ll thank me later, I promise.”

Once at the pet store, Sam was stymied. When he’d purchased the tag, he’d used the machine positioned at the front of the store. This time, he had to venture further in. Never having had a pet before, he was a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that seemed to go along with owning a cat. Brushes. Little furry mice. Scratching posts. Collars. By the looks of things, having a pet was almost as expensive as having kids.

In the end, Sam chose a rather utilitarian plastic carrier. It looked sturdy enough and, besides, there was no way he’d been able to convince Dean to get into one of those faux leather pink leopard spotted ones. Dean couldn’t talk, but Sam could just imagine his reaction anyway. ‘I’m a cat, Sam, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pussy.’

By and large, Sam was feeling fairly upbeat when he returned to the motel. It was afternoon, in less than twelve hours he could destroy the necklace. Not even half a day and he’d have his brother back. In that happy frame of mind, Sam parked the Impala and got out, hefting the carrier under one arm.

When he got to their room, though, Sam’s cheerfulness dissipated in a spike of fear. There was a maid’s cart in front of the room he shared with Dean.

And the door was wide open.

“Oh, no,” Sam moaned. The cat carrier clattered to the ground as he dropped it and ran, hoping he wasn’t too late.

Unfortunately, he was.

Even as Sam ran towards the room, Dean came flying out of it, running as if the hordes of hell were after him. In a way, they were. An older woman chased him, yelling and brandishing a broom.

“Dean, stop!”

Sam may have well saved his breath. The cat kept running and Sam did his best to follow. Two legs, however, were no match for four, no matter how long those two legs happened to be. Dean achieved a sizeable lead on Sam before he disappeared around a corner.

“Dean, wait!”

Sam had thought he was running as fast as he could, but when he heard the screech of tires and a car horn blasting, he found reserves he didn’t know he had. Putting on a burst of speed, he skittered around a corner. His worried gaze immediately went to the street.

There was no flattened, bloody cat’s body and Sam shut his eyes in relief.

“What happened?” Sam grabbed the nearest bystander and demanded to know.

The man shrugged. “I dunno. Some dog or somethin’ ran in front of that SUV. Driver swerved to miss it and hit the bus.”

“Did you see where it went?” Sam asked, impatience oozing out of every pore.

His reluctant witness gave him an incredulous look. “The SUV? Take a good look, buddy, it’s wrapped around a bus.”

That was an exaggeration. There’d been a fender bender and the SUV had come off the loser, but it wasn’t that bad. Cursing under his breath at the bystander’s lack of information, Sam looked around the area, desperate to find his brother. Dean hadn’t been a cat long. He was inexperienced and alone. Just because he hadn’t been hit by this car, didn’t mean he wouldn’t be hit by the next one or even lose a run-in with a dog. Not to mention, if Sam didn’t find him, he’d never be able to free Dean so his brother could return to his human shape.

“Hey, Mister, are you looking for your kitty?” Sam felt something tug on his shirt and looked down to see a little girl peering up at him. “It went that way.”

She pointed in a direction and Sam smiled at her gratefully. “Thanks.”

Luckily the accident had snarled traffic or Sam might have been hit as he ran across the street without looking. The girl had indicated that Dean had continued pretty much in a straight line and Sam followed that course, figuring that Dean had been too spooked or too intent on getting out of that motel room to veer too much from it. He loped along marginally slower than his initial pursuit. Since Dean was no longer in sight, he had to keep an eye out for the cat, even as he tried to catch up. Sam had no such luck, there was no familiar gold-brown furred cat in sight.

His path took Sam to a large, open park and that was when fear gave way to despair. Sam stumbled to a halt several paces into the green area and looked around wildly. There were trees and shrubs everywhere. It was lush and ripe with a million and one places that a cat could hide. His brother was effectively gone.

“Dean!” Sam called out desperately. “Dean, where are you?”

A young woman pushing a stroller along a nearby path stopped, a concerned look on her face. “Are you looking for your little boy?”

”No,” Sam shook his head, distracted by his worry. “My cat.” He focused in on her, belatedly realizing she might be able to help. “Have you seen him?”

“I thought maybe a child was missing.” She responded, relief coloring her voice. “I’m glad it’s just a cat.”

Sam had half turned in order to peer across a clearing, but rounded on the woman after her comment. “Dean is not just a cat,” he snarled. “He’s. . . he’s everything I have.”

The woman put her hand to her throat momentarily, clearly nonplussed and feeling threatened by his reaction. “I hope you find him then,” she stammered and then started pushing her stroller away from Sam at a much faster clip than when she’d first approached him.

No doubt she thought him crazy, but Sam didn’t care. Dean *was* everything and Sam absolutely had to find him. With a growing sense of panic, he kept searching, stopping every few moments to call his brother’s name loudly. After twenty minutes of looking under brushes and checking every tree, however, he began to feel it was hopeless.

“Dean, where are you?” Sam cried out hoarsely, falling to his knees.

Sam wrapped his arms around himself and lowered his head. He’d failed. The one time in their lives that Dean had needed Sam to look out for him, instead of the other way around, and Sam had let him down.

“Oh, Dean, I am so sorry.” Sam whispered.

“Meow.”

Sam’s eyes popped open. There was Dean, sitting in front of him, purring as though nothing was wrong. Sam cried out in disbelief and grabbed his brother, gathering him close. “I thought I’d lost you.”

Dean starting licking Sam’s face and it was at that point that Sam realized he’d been crying. He squeezed the cat, falling back on his ass, but not losing his hold on him. “You jerk.”

It took a while before Sam felt his legs were steady enough to hold him. The combination of an adrenalin rush while he’d chased Dean, despair when he thought he’d lost him and then joy at being proven wrong had left him a little wrung out. As for Dean, he didn’t seem inclined to run again. In fact, he happily rode on Sam’s shoulders. They made quite a sight, a tall young man with a large cat riding on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot. Sam made a detour around the accident site, figuring Dean might not be very welcome there, having inadvertently caused it in the first place.

Sam was feeling both worn out and happy when they got back to the motel, contemplating a nap to get ready for the night’s work. When they got to their room, however, someone was waiting for them. As soon as Sam saw the face of the motel manager, he remembered the no pet policy and gulped.

“Well, the cat came back,” the woman said as she stood up and approached him. She’d been sitting outside the room on the cat carrier, which either she or the maid must have retrieved. “I was wondering if you would.”

The manager’s face was expressionless and Sam assumed the worst. “Look, I’m really sorry. It’s my brother’s cat and I thought it’d be okay if I kept the room clean.” When her expression didn’t change, he sighed. “Just let me get my stuff and I’ll pay whatever damages you feel are fair.”

“Damages?” The woman repeated as she reached Sam. “Honey, who said anything about damages?”

Sam was far too tired to follow the conversation. “But. . . when we checked in, the paperwork said no pets.”

The manager smiled. “That’s because my sister, Mina, who cleans the rooms, is afraid of them. Me? I don’t mind so much.” She reached up and let Dean sniff her fingers. After apparently finding her acceptable, he deigned to let the woman scratch under his chin. “Oh, you’re a fine big boy, yes you are.”

As it turned out, the motel manager was a cat lover. She’d already inspected their room while Sam was chasing Dean and could see that Dean hadn’t caused any damage, so was willing to let them stay. After agreeing to pay an extra deposit, and after cooing over the photos the woman had of her own five cats, Sam and Dean were allowed to stay.

Sam gratefully closed the motel door behind her. “You know,” he commented offhand to his brother. “After this is all over, I don’t think I ever want to see a cat again.”

Dean was already on the bed again and, at his Sam’s words, flipped over onto his back in that boneless way that only cats possess. Dean’s head was upside down as he blinked at Sam, the utter picture of feline innocence.

“Yeah, right,” Sam snorted. “I think you used a couple of your nine lives today, not to mention at least one of mine.”

Sam dropped onto the bed next to Dean and almost immediately felt the cat climb onto him. Despite what he’d said about not wanting to see any more cats, Dean’s warm weight was comforting. He felt his brother’s purr rumble through his body and when Dean began a kneading motion with his paws, it calmed him even more. It figured; even as a cat, Dean took care of Sam.

Emotionally worn out, Sam Winchester slept.

>^^< >^^< >^^< >^^< >^^<

“You have four legs and a lower center of gravity. You wanna tell me why I’m the one doing all the work?”

After all the trouble that came with getting it, Sam didn’t end up using the pet carrier. He didn’t need it anymore. When Sam woke from his nap, he realized that Dean was back to normal. Well, as normal as he could be, given that he was still a cat. Dean was in control of his feline self again and Sam knew why. There’d been just enough of Dean left in the cat to respond to Sam’s desperation and fear at the park. Dean Winchester wasn’t going to let a little thing like not being human keep him from going to his brother when Sammy needed him. The depth of Dean’s devotion always made Sam feel humble, but he was grateful for it in this case. If it helped Dean hold on to his humanity for a little longer, then so be it. Sam would be as needy as necessary to keep Dean with him.

Dean was perched on Sam’s shoulder again as Sam climbed the stairs that led up to the church’s turret. Sam’s grumbling about his brother riding instead of moving under his own power weren’t entirely sincere. From the way Dean rubbed his whiskered face against Sam’s, his brother knew it too. Having gotten used to Dean’s bitching, though, Sam had to fill the gap. Not for much longer, though. Soon Dean would be back to himself and Sam could leave the complaining to him.

It didn’t take but a few moments for Sam’s long legs to get them to the top. Once there, he let Dean jump down and the cat disappeared into the shadows. Sam set the flashlight on a handy chair and pulled the necklace out of his pocket. He’d kept it swathed in silk, since the material could insulate magical objects. Sam’d had no intention of Katherine Lewis finding her necklace while he waited for the dark of the moon. He’d drafted a pair of silk boxers Dean had for the chore. They were Dean’s favorites, but Sam figured that his brother would find it a small price to pay.

There were no ritual or incantation needed. Sam simply spread the necklace out on the floor and looked around for something heavy to smash it with. Just another moment or two and this would be all over; Dean would be human again.

The click of a gun cocking stopped Sam in his tracks.

“Very clever,” a woman’s voice came out of the darkness. “I was wondering why I couldn’t sense my amulet anywhere. I’ll have to remember that about the silk. Good thing I knew you’d come back here.”

Sam watched as Katherine Lewis strode towards him, her steps an easy glide reminiscent of the cat pictured on her amulet.

“Why?” Sam demanded, feeling his lip curl in disgust. “My brother didn’t do anything to you.”

“Oh, please,” she retorted, tossing her head and flipping her dark mane of hair over her shoulder. “He was like a dog in heat, the way he flirted with her. It was necessary to drain the first two of Sandi’s suitors dry, to give Bast the life she needed in order to accomplish more interesting things. But your brother. . . well, you know how cats like to play with their prey.”

She waved the gun at him. “Step away from the necklace.”

Sam set his jaw and refused to move.

“I can shoot you there too,” Katherine warned him. “Bast doesn’t mind a little blood. Maybe I’ll keep your brother, though. Put a rhinestone collar on him. When the human part of him is gone, he’ll make a sweet little pet.”

“Dean is no one’s pet,” Sam snarled. His hands fisted at his side.

“Is that his name? Dean.” She frowned as she said the name slowly. “That won’t do. I think I’ll call him Fluffy.”

Sam shook his head. “What you did makes you less human than he’ll ever be.”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to offer insults.” Katherine took better aim and called out to the room at large. “Fluffy, say goodbye to your brother.”

The sound started so low that it was almost subliminal at first. It quickly grew louder, however, and by the time Dean launched himself at Katherine Lewis, the growl had become an unearthly wail.

“Dean, no!” Sam cried out as his brother attacked the woman. After all the supernatural crap they’d gone through, he was not going to lose his brother to a crazy woman with a gun.

Katherine fired at the cat, but Dean was a small moving target and her shot went wild. He hit her with all four paws slashing and it was her turn to shriek. Sam moved forward to help his brother, but from the looks of things, Dean was holding his own. Instead, Sam looked again for something sturdy to use to smash the necklace. He finally found what he in a heavy metallic crucifix. Sam grabbed it, heedless of the cobwebs.

Lifting the crucifix high over his head, Sam prepared to destroy the amulet that had caused his brother’s transformation. He looked briefly at Dean and Katherine and was just in time to see the woman get a solid blow in on his brother. Dean’s small furred body flew across the room and hit the wall with a solid thunk.

“No!” He cried out as Dean slid down to the floor.

Sam didn’t know how much damage a cat could take. Everything in him longed to go check on Dean, but Sam knew his priority had to be elsewhere for the moment. Taking all of his worry and anguish for his brother and channeling it physically, Sam brought the crucifix down on the necklace with all the force he could muster. It made a satisfying crunching sound as the jewel in the cat figure’s eye shattered into hundreds of tiny shards.

There was a blinding flash and Sam covered his eyes. Even before it dissipated, however, Sam was on his feet and scrambling to his brother’s side. The remnant of the flash followed and overtook him, enveloping Dean in its glow.

“Dean?” Sam called out. He did his best to peer through the light, trying to figure out what was happening.

When the glow finally faded, Sam’s eyes were tearing, but he could see clearly enough to discern that it was Dean in his human form that lay crumpled by the wall. “Dean!”

Sam wasn’t sure how he finished crossing the rest of the room to reach his brother’s side. He gathered Dean into his arms and felt for a pulse, eyes closing briefly in relief as he felt it, strong and steady.

“Dean?” Sam slapped gently at Dean’s face, smiling broadly as when his brother’s eyes blinked open at him.

“Sammy?” Dean looked dazed. “What the hell happened?”

Sam didn’t have a chance to answer him. A shriek from the other side of the room sounded, loud and shrill. Both brothers looked, to see Katherine Lewis cowering on the floor. The glow had taken on the shape of a cat-headed woman and was stalking the museum curator. Even as they watched, it pounced, wrapping around the woman. Katherine’s cries grew more strident, until they faded away with a whimper. The glow abruptly winked out of existence, leaving in its wake a dainty black cat.

The cat looked at them, a totally human look of panic on its face. Before either Winchester could react, it took off running. The feline disappeared through the door and was quickly lost from view.

“Payback’s a bitch,” Dean murmured with satisfaction

Sam knew that he should care about Katherine Lewis’ fate, but he didn’t. She’d tried to control a deity and killed three people in the process. Being trapped in the form of a cat, her consciousness slowly fading, was an apt punishment.

But that was enough thinking about Katherine Lewis. Sam had his brother back.

“Are you all right?” Sam asked Dean, even as he tried to check over the other man’s body. Only then did he realize that Dean was nude except for his ever-present necklace.

“Yeah, just sore as hell,” Dean groaned as Sam helped him to sit up. “I’ve been tossed around by a lot of big bads, but never when I was the size of a football before. It sucks.” He looked at Sam with a glare. “And a litter box, Sam? I can’t believe you even had to ask about that. What the hell were you thinking?”

Sam chuckled, reminding himself that he’d missed his brother’s complaining. He got to his feet and offered Dean a hand. For once, the older Winchester took the offered assistance.

Once he was pulled to his feet, Dean swayed a bit. It only took a moment for him to remember how to balance on two legs and he was soon looking around. “Where are my clothes?”

“Ah,” Sam’s expression was sheepish. “I forgot them.”

“Forgot them?” Dean looked appalled. For all that he was proud of his looks, he didn’t appear to be comfortable with the thought of walking out of the church, abandoned or not, completely nude.

“Wait a minute,” Sam snapped his fingers as he thought of something. It took a minute, but he located Dean’s silk boxers that he’d used to shield the Bast amulet. “Here you go.”

Dean held up the brightly colored garment and looked at Sam with a grimace. “Someday, Sammy, you’re going to tell me what a pair of my shorts was doing here.”

Sam nodded. “But not today.”

“Not today,” Dean agreed.

His energy visibly flagged as he drew them on and, by the time they headed for the stairs, Sam had one arm around Dean’s waist and was helping him.

Neither of them gave Katherine Lewis another thought.

>^^< >^^< >^^< >^^< >^^<

It was with a sense of déjà vu that Sam returned to the motel room the next morning, bearing food and coffee. This time, however, when he opened the door, there wasn’t a cat nestled in the middle of the bed. Instead, it was Dean, in his proper human body, sleeping in his usual position on his stomach. Sam smiled and shut the door quietly behind him, hoping not to wake his brother.

Dean had been wiped out when they got back from the church. He’d insisted on showering, ‘with water, dude, not my tongue.’. Afterwards, though, Dean’d crashed and crashed hard. Exhausted by worry, Sam also slept soundly, not waking until late the next morning. When he finally did, Sam snuck out of the motel room. If he knew the signs, then Dean would soon be up and around and, when he was, Sam knew there would be only one thing his brother would want.

Sam made his way to the bed and set a cup of coffee on the nightstand closest to Dean. He carefully perched on the side of the mattress and looked at his watch, timing how long it would take the other man to wake up.

“C’ffee?”

Ten seconds. A new record.

With great affection, Sam watched as Dean lifted his head from the pillow, eyes bleary from sleep. Dean didn’t look totally awake, but his hand went unerringly for the coffee. Lifting himself up to a sitting position, Dean drank deeply.

“Ah,” he sighed in contentment as he leaned back against the headboard. “That’s the stuff.”

“You act like a man in the desert dying of thirst,” Sam teased.

“No coffee for three days,” Dean grumbled. “I was dying of thirst.”

Sam looked at his brother. Dean was a being a little subdued, which was never a good sign. “What was it like?” he asked, hoping he could get his brother to talk about it.

To his surprise, Dean answered him.

“I felt like me at first and it was frustrating because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” Dean responded slowly. “But then I kept getting distracted by strange shit.” His face took on a worried expression. “I didn’t eat anything weird, did I?”

“No weirder than normal,” Sam reassured him. He sighed as he thought of how close he’d come to losing Dean to a cat, of all things. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Dean shrugged. “Wasn’t your fault. Besides, it wasn’t all bad.”

“It wasn’t?” Sam asked, genuinely curious.

“I’m in halfway decent shape,” Dean explained, “But being a cat? Dude, it was like I could jump up to the top of a building. I’ll never forget what that felt like.”

Try as he might, Sam couldn’t get Dean to confide anything else, although he was sure that his brother had been horrified by the slow loss of his human nature. Dean was still exhausted, so Sam encouraged him to get some rest and then tried not to worry when his brother took him up on it. By the next morning, though, the brothers were ready to move on and Dean was especially raring to go. There were hints of paranormal activities three states over and that was their next destination. While Sam handled checking them out, Dean went to get the morning coffee and paper. When he came back, he was walking slowly and had a thoughtful frown on his face.

“What’s the matter?” Sam asked. He was leaning on the Impala, ready to go.

“Katherine Lewis has been reported missing,” Dean commented. “The local authorities haven’t been able to find a trace of her whereabouts for over forty-eight hours.”

“Have they tried looking at the Humane Society?” Sam asked, smug.

“Sam, that’s not funny,” Dean protested. “Spending the rest of your life, your short life, as a cat. It’s not right.”

“It’s what she meant for you,” Sam retorted fiercely. “Believe me, Kat Lewis got what she deserved.”

Dean seemed taken back by Sam’s vehemence. “Remind me to never piss you off.”

Sam set his jaw. “Just don’t ask me to feel sorry for someone who tried to hurt you.”

“Okay,” Dean handed Sam his cup of coffee and, after taking good look at his brother’s expression, cleared his throat and carefully wouldn’t look at him. “You know the same goes for you, right?”

”Damn straight,” Sam confirmed.

“Then let’s blow this popsicle joint,” Dean stated, thumping Sam on the shoulder before making his way to the driver’s side of the car. “I’ve had about enough of this chick flick shit that I can stomach.”

Remembering all of his worry about his brother, Sam grimaced. “Jerk.”

Dean paused as he opened his car door. “Bitch.”

Sam got in the Impala, as did his brother. He waited until Dean got them out on the road before saying, “Pooty boo.”

The glance he got from his brother contained pure evil. “Sam, don’t even go there. Remember, even as a cat, I could kick your ass.”

The rare sound of Sam Winchester’s laughter drifted out of the car as they disappeared down the road.

~the end~

 

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