The cat bristled up. It got too big, and made a strange high-pitched growling noise.
Sam, muddy and tired and cold and hungry and missing his Dean, did not know how to cope with this sudden unexpected development. He drooped. Look, paws. Sam-paws. He knew how to cope with paws.
They were muddy paws. He stared at them reproachfully.
The peculiar cat-noise stopped.
Sam chanced a peek.
It was staring at him with narrowed blue eyes, with a terrifying stare of doom. Like it held access to all the treats ever and didn't think Sam deserved any.
Sam had got lost. That was almost like running away. Sam was a bad dog.
Sam slumped to the ground, into the drop position, and covered his nose with his paws. Sometimes that made Dean stop being angry at him. Especially if Dean had said "drop" two minutes ago and Sam had forgotten. Or if Sam was being too bouncy. It was always a good back-up plan, in case of sudden inexplicable human glares. Especially when combined with hopeful flaps of the tail.
The cat blinked at him, slow and owlish. Then it stalked around him in a careful semi-circle.
... then it batted at his tail.
Sam yipped and leaped away, paws skittering on the slippery white tiles of the cat's porch. What, didn't the cat know what a tail was for, it had a tail of its own, was it his fault if cats were weird and never wagged their tails?
The cat was sitting precisely where Sam's tail had been, feet primly together and tail wrapped neatly around them (see, weird!). If cats had known how to make any facial expression at all, Sam would have sworn this one was smirking at him.
He made a frustrated sort of huff - not a growl, that would be rude, he wasn't going to be rude, this was the cat's territory and everything smelled of it and Sam didn't even know where his territory was which made him feel very small and alone and useless - and gave the cat a look of Plea. And Beseeching. He was good at those looks.
The cat tilted its head to one side, eyed him narrowly, then leapt sudden and light up onto the windowsill beside it.
The window was open.
The cat butted at the underside of the window with its head, stared at him imperiously in an unmistakeable "Well, are you coming or not?", and vanished into the house.
Then he very cautiously stood up on his hind legs, nosed his head into the gap between window and sill, and pushed the window up until it was wide enough for him.
He had his orders, after all. Who was Sam to disobey?
“Hell, Cas. What’d you drag in this time?”
The cat sat down in front of Sam and began licking its paw delicately, completely ignoring the human rising from the desk in front of them. This meant Sam couldn’t actually walk into the room. And if he didn’t walk into the room he couldn’t smile properly at the human. He did an awkward sort of shuffle, trying to step around the immovable black object, then accidentally just stepped right over it. The cat batted at his belly as he passed, and he made an embarrassing little yip.
“Because that’s just what I need today,” the human was rambling on in the pointless way humans sometimes did that didn’t involve words like walk, dinner, no, come on, or Sam’s own name. “No coffee, and a car that won’t start, and a big strange dog leaving muddy paw prints on the carpet. Show me your collar, kid.”
Sam did his best to lick the hands as they approached his face, but they skipped right around to fasten on his collar, so he settled for leaning against the human’s legs and staring up at him hopefully and flapping his tail.
“Hey, your owner’s got a brain at least,” the human commented sardonically, and pulled out his cell. He sort of rubbed Sam’s ears a bit while he did it, so Sam just leaned more heavily and closed his eyes in bliss for a minute. He was jerked out of it by the sound of Dean, all tiny and tinny and distant. Whining and staring around the room failed to make Dean appear, so Sam stared fixedly at the human instead. Because sometimes humans needed a reminder of what was important in life.
The cat was giving him an unnerving sort of stare again.
“... cat's adopted him,” the human was saying. “Better get over here before your boy decides to take up litter scratching and grooming as well as begging.” He eyed Sam over. "Although he could do with a bath just now."
Sam cringed. The human waggled his eyebrows at him.
Dean's voice quivered quietly through the air, and Sam sat up very straight. The human rattled off something else, put his phone away, and eyed them both.
Sam thumped his tail. The human was just the right height for leaping up on. Sam's paws would rest perfectly on his shoulders. Also he smelled like fresh bread, and like the cat. Sam approved of all these things.
The human pointed at him. "You are waiting outside."
That wasn't a good word.
The cat picked its way over and sat down very deliberately between Sam's paws. Sam wrinkled up his forehead and stared at it. It flicked its tail, and stared pointedly at its human.
The human narrowed his eyes. "... Fine. But not on the sofa, you hear me?"
Sofa! That was a good word! Sam knew that word!
Sofas were nice. Sofas, when curled up with someone else, were even nicer. Sofas with Dean were the best sofas, but it turned out that being curled up on a sofa with a cat tucked in under your chin was actually quite nice too. And the human was sitting sideways on the other end of the sofa and using Sam as a footrest. Sam couldn't really move, because if he did the cat opened an eye and stared at him with terrible sad reproach, but that was okay. He was warm and he was being snuggled. And he'd managed to sad-stare the human into giving him a slice of beef from his sandwich, so he wasn't even hungry anymore.
The cat had a nice purr. It was deep and grumbly, sort of hesitant, and it kept breaking off in the middle like it wasn't patched together properly, like the cat wasn't sure it should be doing it. It reminded Sam of The Car, and it felt nice vibrating against his leg.
(The human had made noises like he was going to make Sam get off the sofa, but by then the cat had been sitting on Sam, so Sam hadn't been able to move. And apparently the human couldn't disobey the cat's stare either.)
... But then Sam was presented with a dilemma. Because, suddenly, he could hear The Engine. The Engine of The Car. It was coming up the street, and it was going to turn into the drive (because that was what it did) and then there would be Dean. And Sam had to hurl himself at the door, but there was a cat on him.
He sat very still, and quivered.
The Engine came nearer, then stopped. Then The Car's Door squeaked and thumped.
Sam whimpered very quietly.
The human eyed him over the screen of his laptop. "That your man?"
Sam stared at him. Stared at the door. Stared at him.
The cat lifted his head and yawned delicately, curl of a little pink tongue, nose bumping softly against the underside of Sam's chin. Then it hopped down and skittered behind the couch.
Sam blinked at the couch.
"Yeah, he likes to vanish," the human said, and swung his feet down off Sam's back to stand up. Sam sprung off the sofa ahead of him and zoomed to the door. Dean's boots! He could hear them!
He stared fixedly at the crack under the door, waiting for that moment when it the human would do that thing with the doorknob and it would widen to Sam-width. Somewhere above, looking through the little window set in the door, the human whistled, but it wasn't a come-here-boy whistle so Sam ignored it.
"Lucky you," the human commented. "Does he let you wander into the bathroom when he's showering?"
The human opened the door. Sam barrelled out. And then every smell in his world was DeanDeanDean , and those were Dean's legs he was colliding with, and Dean's hands on his head and shoulders, and Dean crouching down and Dean's arms around him, and Dean's deep relieved laugh in his ear and his "Hey there, Sammy, what happened to you?"
"So I take it you guys know each other?" the other human commented drily behind Sam. Sam was too busy wriggling and trying to drape himself all over Dean's shoulders and knees and hide his face in Dean's neck.
Dean looked up over Sam's head and grinned, with his eyes crinkling at the corners the way Sam liked because it meant that Dean was happy. "Yeah, we go back. Hours in the car together, epic battles over sofa space. Arguments over grocery choices. Almost like I raised the kid, or something."
The cat's human made that amused noise again. "How'd he get out?"
Dean ruffled up Sam's ears, and Sam made a happy grumble. "Oh, he didn't. We just moved in a couple of streets over, and I lost him in the park. Guess he got confused with all the new smells or something and couldn't work out which way was back."
"Just moved in, huh?" the cat's owner said, sly as the cat who was currently weaving its way between his legs and slinking over to Sam. "Guess that means you don't know where the good coffee is around here?"
Dean raised his eyebrows. "That an offer? Oh, hey there, little dude."
The cat wound its way around Sam's legs and got them all tangled up. Sam lowered his head to sniff at it, and it patted at his nose.
"Nope," the other human said cheerfully. "It's a you-owe-me. Coffee machine's broken, car won't start, I've got an addiction to feed, your dog left mud on my carpet and there's no way I'm cleaning that up uncaffeinated. Gabriel, by the way."
Dean tipped his head back and laughed. "Okay then, Gabriel. But Sammy'll have to stay here while we go. The way your cat's staring at me, I think he might actually try to kill me if I take his new toy away."
"He gets attached," Gabriel admitted happily. "It's a problem. I'll grab my coat. You're paying."
Dean was pretty sure this guy was kind of insane.
In the space of five minutes, his conversation had zipped between cats (siamese), council bylaws and the relevant signposts, speculating about the guys who tightened the screws on the signposts (he thought that’d be the best job ever because you’d never have to do anything and could spend all your time composing rude sonnets about local councilmen in your head), Shakespeare (Dean had never known that Shakespeare had so many filthy things to say about guy-on-guy action, seriously, and was that a hint?), Venice, his car, and (with a peculiar fascination) Dean’s forearms. His enormously frothy and ridiculously sugary espresso concoction had not gone down half an inch, his eyes were sparklingly wicked, his expressive hand gestures had already taken off a woman’s hat and almost brought Dean’s perfectlysensiblethankyouverymuch strong black coffee to grief three times; and, much to Dean’s surprise, Dean was actually keeping up with the conversation and giving as good as he got.
Dean was… thoroughly enjoying himself. For the first time in months.
He leaned back in his chair, so that his shirt pulled just so across his chest, and propped his boot up against the chair next to Gabriel’s. Gabriel’s eyes flickered appreciatively downward, and Dean grinned like a lion. Yeah, he knew he was hot, and he knew how to play it, but it was a hell of a long time since he’d had fun with that. “Sounds like it’s just a basic ignition problem. Do you even know how to lift a hood?”
“Not the foggiest,” the guy admitted happily. “I usually just throw the car and some money at someone who knows better and wait for them to fix it for me. I don’t touch mechanical shit, in case it turns into ducks and meringues.”
“That happen often?” Dean enquired, deadpan.
Gabriel laced his fingers together, leaned his chin on them, and gave Dean a dire look. “More often than you’d think. So, Dean-the-mechanic, can I wheedle you into poking around under my hood?”
His eyebrows danced a terrible dance of innuendo and promise.
Dean snorted, eyed off the casual way Gabriel’s thumb was rubbing back and forth over the heel of his own hand, and crossed his arms over his chest. “You think your engine can take me, dude?”
The smirk widened, and Gabriel’s voice slid into a suggestive sort of a purr. “Oh, that and more, baby. You might need more coffee.”
Dean glanced down at his empty cup. “Yeah, it’s almost like some weird guy sat me down and talked my ear off for over an hour. Funny, that.”
Gabriel’s nose wrinkled up. “Has it been that long? I should head back - Castiel gets worried if I’m out too long in the middle of the day.”
“Whipped,” Dean commented as they stood up, surprising himself a bit with how easy it was to fall into a pattern of tease-and-response with this guy, the assurance that no offence was being offered or taken. “Does he adopt strays often, then?”
Gabriel made a face around his drink, and flapped one hand apologetically. Dean watched the tug and jerk of his throat as he swallowed the whole ridiculous thing down in one long pull, and made serious designs on that frothy moustache for just a moment before Gabriel swiped it away on the back of his hand. “Pretty often. Starting with yours truly. I’m pretty sure the house was actually his from the minute he turned up on my doorstep and stared me into opening it. I’m just allowed to stay around because he likes the pats and the opposable thumbs.” He cocked his head thoughtfully to one side, and sucked whipped cream off his finger. “And because he thinks I’d just wander uselessly on the streets and look pathetic and lost without him, and never remember to eat at the right times.”
An unexpected chuckle wormed its sly little way out of Dean’s throat. “And he thought Sammy looked like he needed looking after too. Well, the kid does have the best woeful eyes I’ve ever seen on any dog, even those big droopy bloodhound things with the faces that look like a melted candle.”
Gabriel made a bit of a face. “Yeah, he’s gonna sulk for days when you take him away.”
“That does sound like a problem,” Dean agreed. “Sounds like I’ll just have to hang around and poke at your car all afternoon. And maybe drop by on the weekend.”
Gabriel hesitated for just a moment, then flashed him an unreadable sideways while opening the passenger-side door to the Impala. “Sure you don’t have anything you’d rather be doing? Unpacking, or whatever?”
Dean settled into the driver seat of his baby, and reached over to turn on the cassette. “Believe me when I say those boxes and I couldn’t be happier to ignore each other for an afternoon.”
Gabriel perked up, and dropped into the seat next to him. The Impala creaked welcomingly under him, because Dean’s baby was behind him all the way. “I hear you. You gotta watch out for those boxes. Have you seen what they do to poor unsuspecting cats? They squeeze them and they twist them into all sorts of weird contortions and they cram them into stupidly tight spaces, and then? They take photos of themselves and post them on the internet so everyone can coo over them and go ‘aw, cats in boxes, so cute’ and write stupid captions about it.”
Dean was pretty sure this guy was kind of insane, and Dean could deal with that.
The afternoon sun was rich and warm across Sam's stomach. Dean said he had no dignity, but Sam didn't know what dignity was and was pretty sure it wasn't as exciting as wriggling around on your back while the sun baked your chest for you.
The cat was stretched out against his side. Sam smelled of cat, especially around the face and legs where the cat insisted on rubbing its cheek against him, like some kind of a cuddle. Sam was okay with that. He was okay with any kind of cuddle. And he sort of liked the cat.
He had the cat. He had the cat's human (Gabriel) nearby, stretched out on the grass reading something on his laptop and making loud derogatory comments about it from time to time. And, most importantly, he had Dean, who was doing that thing he did sometimes where he lay on his back under a car and fiddled with things. It wasn't The Car this time, it was the cat's car, but that was close enough to normal. Sam (and therefore the cat) were lying right between Gabriel and Dean, so that when Dean snorted and made smart-ass replies to whatever Gabriel was talking about, they were right in the middle of it. It was good. Also, there was sun.
Sam approved. There had been too many days lately where Dean stomped around their strange empty new house and glared at boxes a lot. Sometimes familiar things came out of boxes and Dean put them into places in the strange new rooms, but they never looked quite right, and Dean never looked quite happy with it. Sam disapproved of boxes now. He approved of Dean working with cars and laughing.
Also, now he had a cat. The cat stared at Sam and told him what to do, and nuzzled into him, and wanted cuddles. Sam could do that. He could look after Dean and the cat. And if anything worrying came near them, he could look big and scary and make a loud noise. He was good at that.
"Dude," Dean commented, wiping his hands on a rag. "Your cat is still staring at me. I swear it hasn't blinked for two hours."
Gabriel flipped up the brim of his hat and grinned under his sunglasses. "Don't mind him. He likes to ogle."
Dean eyed him with some weird human meaning behind it that Sam didn't get but kind of liked because it seemed to be something like a smile. "Does he, now?"
"Yep," Gabriel confirmed, and stretched out luxuriously on the grass, without looking away from Dean. Sam thought it looked like a challenge, but they didn't seem to be getting angry. "He has good taste."
Dean threw the rag away and stalked over to join Gabriel on the grass. The cat purred, nudged in against Sam's throat, and looked pleased with itself. Sam closed his eyes with a happy sigh, because everyone was cuddling now.